New Delhi: The Delta variant of the coronavirus, which was first identified in India, is a cause for global concern with studies showing it is more contagious and resistant to vaccines than other forms of COVID. Banega Swasth India team speaks to Dr Lancelot Pinto, Consultant Pulmonologist and Epidemiologist, Hinduja Hospital to know all about Delta Variant of COVID-19.
How much we know about the Delta variant of COVID-19 and why it is a cause of worry?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: Whenever we talk about variants, we need to ask three questions: one is the transmissibility, which means how soon or fast the virus can spread from one person to another, second is its severity and how bad it can affect people and lastly is the immune escape, which means will the current vaccines or treatment work on the variant or not.
So, when you talk about the delta variant, obviously we know it is more transmissible than any earlier variants. In some instances, it is seen that it is twice as transmissible than the original variants from last year. This time we have seen the whole family getting infected with the virus, last year, it was limited to just one or two persons in the family.
Does Delta variant of COVID-19 lead to more hospitalisation and deaths in individuals?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: There is some data from UK that suggest that this variant leads to more hospitalisation but there is no data that proves that this variant leads to more death in people.
If we talk about UK, the study there showed that about 61 % of all their strains are the delta variant. So, in a very short span, it became a leading variant in the UK as compared to the other variants. The general belief, as far as what we know is that it may not lead to more deaths or more mortality.
However, having said that the problem is that the variant is so transmissible, and at one given point it infects a higher number of people, so from those number of people, even if a smaller percentage of people gets the severe disease, then overall that one percentage becomes a huge number because the denominator or the base of that percentage is huge. But if you talk about absolute percentage, we don’t believe that this variant leads to more deaths.
Are reinfections of COVID-19 a cause of concern in Delta Variant?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: If we look at community-level data, we have seen that those who had COVID infection last year didn’t get reinfected with the virus. For example, last year, in Mumbai, we had seen high cases of COVID in slums and this year it was in high-rise buildings, showcasing that reinfection is not a cause of concern.
Are vaccines effective against Delta variant of COVID-19?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: In all probability, if a person has had taken both doses of any COVID-19 vaccine and if he/she contracts the virus – it will be a mild disease and not the severe one.
We have also seen people who had both doses of their vaccines but still got infected with delta variant but again it wasn’t that severe.
What was found in the study, which was done by Public Health England (PHE), who has probably done the largest study – Individuals who had one dose of Covishield vaccine, the efficacy was at 33 per cent, which used to be 50 per cent for other variants. The 33 per cent figure means if 100 individuals are not vaccinated and 100 individuals have received one dose, 77 per cent of those who received even one dose can still get infected. If an individual had taken both the doses of vaccine, the efficacy increases to 64 per cent. But this is for systemic infections.
In severe infections, it was found that person who has had both the doses of Covishield, the efficacy was 92 per cent. Bottom line is that one dose is not enough, in two doses the efficacy is lower than it was supposed to be, but it results in less hospitalisation and zero deaths, which is an important factor.
What is Delta plus variant of COVID-19 and how much do we know about it?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: Delta plus variant or B1617-2 has one amino acid change, which is called K417N, which was also seen in the earlier variants. As of now, what we know is that maybe the new antibody cocktail treatment doesn’t work on this particular variant.
However, having said that, the incident reported of this version are very tiny so we don’t know if it is more transmissible than the other variants or is it more severe.
What will happen now is that researchers will take plasma from people who have been infected with this particular strain and they will then test it against current vaccines and that will give us more knowledge. As of now there is no reason to panic.
Can children get vaccinated against coronavirus at this stage?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: We don’t have any data for children as such for vaccines, maybe we will have data in sometime. The best advice as of now is that people should protect their children by getting everyone around them vaccinated so that they get indirect protection.
Now that we have vaccine can we get back to a normal routine like before? How much risk is reduced against COVID-19 now?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: So, we are not good as of now. Vaccines are not 100 per cent effective as no vaccine has shown 100 per cent efficacy, which means that a larger number of people will still get infected despite getting vaccinations – they will not have moderate to severe disease and will not die but they still can spread the infection to vulnerable section of the society. Therefore, don’t think if we have got vaccine for COVID-19, we can get back to normalcy as of yet. Unless and until we reach a point wherein majority of people are vaccinated and the transmission rate, therefore, cut down, we cannot and cannot get back to where we were before COVID-19 pandemic.
Will third wave of COVID-19 come in India? How should we prepare for it?
Dr Lancelot Pinto: Third wave, most likely will happen, it has happened in many countries in the world. What we need to do best is to get the magnitude of the wave under control and look at how many people develop severe disease and get hospitalised. Currently, the best way to reduce the magnitude of the third wave is to get as many people as possible vaccinated as that will reduce the possibility of people developing severe disease.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.