New Delhi: Union Ministry of Health on Wednesday (March 24) announced that there is a new variant of Novel Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) called ‘double mutant variant’ which has been detected in some states in the country including Delhi and Maharashtra. A ‘double mutation’ is when two mutated strains of a virus come together to form a third strain. The one reported in India is the result of the E484Q (indigenous strain) and L452R (same as found in California, USA) strains combining. Apart from this, there are three variants – the UK, South African and Brazilian strain – that have been doing rounds in the country and have been detected in around 800 samples in India. As the daily COVID-19 cases continue to rise in India, inching closer to 50,000 fresh cases in a day and mutations ring an alarm, NDTV spoke to Dr VK Paul, Member, NITI Aayog and Chairman of the board of governors for the medical counsel of India.
What Are Mutations?
Explaining about mutation, Dr Preeti Kumar, Vice President, Public Health System Support at the Public Health Foundation of India said,
Mutation is the property of a virus to undergo changes when it multiplies. As it replicates, it may not produce exact replicas of itself, resulting in the emergence of new strains, which may be more or at times less effective. Some strains die out, while the more effective ones, which spread efficiently, survive.
According to the experts, mutations in viruses are very common and not all mutations need attention as they do not make the virus more transmissible or infectious. However, some variants like the UK variant are said to be highly transmissible.
Mutations occur all the time and every mutation is not necessarily of any significance to human health beyond the general pandemic status. The ultimate prevention for mutation is to curb the spread and transmission of the virus. Throw it out; suppress it so much that it doesn’t replicate and then there will be no chance of mutations coming up, said Dr VK Paul.
Coronavirus Mutations In India
Talking about India’s fight against Coronavirus mutations, especially double mutation, Dr VK Paul said, India has set-up a very robust mechanism to sequence the viruses for possible mutations of interest and concern and mutations that may require investigation through national laboratories. He said,
Since the advent of the UK variant in December 2020, we have subjected as many as 11,000 viruses strains to sequence; to detect mutations that are likely to be there with particular interest in the mutations that are UK variant (B.1.1.7), the South African variant (B.1.351) and the Brazilian variant (P. 1). These are the three which are quite important in terms of the international impact.
Dr Paul informed that based on the data from the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Consortium on Genomics (INSACOG), a multi-agency network to monitor the genome variations in the virus across the country, the UK variant is present in multiple Indian states, South African variant in very few states and only one sample has been found positive for viruses of the Brazilian (P.1) lineage.
Many countries across the globe have reported the UK variant to be more transmissible but according to Dr Paul, mutations are not riding the excessive transmission or the current surge of COVID-19 in India. He said,
All the mutations put together – the three major ones and the others we are referring to as double mutation – we don’t believe any of them are pushing this surge. We are saying this on the basis of extensive data that is available to us. We are correlating the mutation to the clinical behaviour of the spread systematically by the National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC). We don’t see a link.
Now that the COVID-19 vaccination drive is underway, beneficiaries are concerned about the efficacy of vaccines – in their present form – against the new variants. Currently, India is using two COVID-19 vaccines – Oxford-Astrazeneca’s Covishield being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India; Bharat Biotech and ICMR’s Covaxin. Dr Paul said that both vaccines work against the UK mutation. He added,
We also believe that both these vaccines work against the Brazilian strain as well. We are still to carry out work on the South African variant to be certain. Preliminary results for Covaxin show that it covers that variant also. But we are not finding that variant in a copious spread.
While signing off, Dr Paul urged the viewers to take the COVID-19 vaccine and create a population of vaccine-protected individuals among those who are eligible to receive the vaccine.
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.
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