NEw Delhi: A new Covid variant called the XE variant has been discovered, which is prevalent in the UK and in China, where the numbers are surging. This new variant maybe 10 per cent more transmissible than even Omicron, which fuelled the third wave. But is this new strain a cause for concern – and in light of this, does every adult Indian now need a booster?
Dr Shashank Gupta, Member of COVID-19 task Force, Maharashtra tells NDTV that currently while we do know that it may be about 10 per cent more transmissible, we don’t have sufficient data to understand if the XE strain from UK causes severe disease.
When it comes to the evolution of viruses, normally when a virus evolves after more than two years, like Spanish Flu, it is a possibility that it may be more transmissible but virulence is likely to be less. This is speculation for now. We still need to be vigilant and these are fastly transmissible airborne droplets. India is sitting safe right now because we have the BA.2. Whatever we know from HIV, the recombinants of HIV never really spread across. These are the facts we know from old anecdotal data and evidence based data. From a scientific point though there are causes of concern and we can’t afford to dismiss vigilance.
For next 3-6 months, it is unlikely that a major new variant of concern will cause disruption in India, Dr Gupta added.
Dr Rajib Dasgupta, Member, National COVID-19 Taskforce says that the fact that a large number of cases continue to be reported across the globe means that recombinant forms will appear and will spread in some regions.
To put it in current context, the WHO situation report from March 29 shows the South East Asian region also shows a negative trend of new cases. Of course, it is on the rise in UK, but a new report shows that while prevalence is on decline, which is old cases plus new cases, new cases are on rise but overall it means that COVID load is coming down. Plus add it to the facts that whether it is Omicron or now XE, it has certainly affected the large urban districts primarily at the early stages. That’s something countries like India and developing world needs to look out for.
Talking about the booster doses for adults in India, Dr Joshi says that for those whose immunity is compromised and are working on the frontline, booster dose is a sensible option.
Remember a large number of Indian population have already been exposed to the virus be it the delta variant or the Omicron variant. There’s a large natural exposure. While we await our latest serosurvey, I don’t think we should rush for boosters for all. We must complete our primary immunisation correctly and appropriately and wait for some better Indian science to be generated on boosters. Because if we look at Israel case, when they give you four boosters also, they have still seen large spikes so I’m not so certain about the booster science and I think Indian government has been correct in not using the term booster but precautionary dose for people who are vulnerable.
Dr Dasgupta however thinks that in the new variants, the new cases will depend upon their immune escape properties. But what is encouraging so far is that vaccines have been able to prevent severe disease, hospitalisation and deaths, he said.
We have continued to witness the efficacy of vaccines largely during the Omicron wave, where cases increased but deaths and hospitalisation decreased, this is known as decoupling. The early indication of XE in the UK, the decoupling reasonably seems to hold. The important point is protecting the immunocompromised, not just the adults but children as well. This includes children with Blood Cancer, Down syndrome, transplants and so on. The other element for which clarity and advisory is needed is for booster doses in international travel. Now that the international travel schedule has completely opened up, that’s something which is quite a priority. In general international vaccination requirements are mandated by WHO, for example for Yellow Fever, the countries that are relevant, the same rule holds. But this is not the case with COVID-19 because countries are coming up with their own rules.
The WHO needs to step in and have global regulations on this issue, Dr Dasgupta added.
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ population, indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. 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 will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that 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 the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.