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“New COVID Sub-Variant In Delhi Evading Antibodies”: WHO Chief Scientist To NDTV

WHO’s Soumya Swaminathan on why the national capital is seeing a rise in hospitalisation for COVID and what it means

“New COVID Sub-Variant In Delhi Evading Antibodies": WHO Chief Scientist To NDTV

New Delhi: The national capital – Delhi on August 23 (Tuesday) recorded more than 50 per cent rise in daily COVID cases while nine people died, according to data shared by the city health department. With the fresh cases and fatalities, Delhi’s overall infection tally increased to 19,95,407 and the death toll to 26,436, it said. Doctors have also reported a spike in hospitalisation. According to them it has gone up to 60 per cent in the month of August alone. As the cases increase, NDTV speaks exclusively with Dr Soumya Swaminathan, the chief scientist of the World Health Organization (WHO).

Also Read: COVID-19 Explained: What Is A Breakthrough Infection?

Here are the things she said about the sudden spike the city is experiencing:

  1. In the last several months, we have seen Omicron variant has developed several new mutations and has evolved. Today, there are several sub-lineages and many branches of the Omicron. Globally we see there is BA.5 that is predominant, almost 70 per cent of cases are of this variant in America and Europe. However, in India and in about 15 to 20 other countries, BA.2 and BA.275 and BA.274 is evolving further. This suggests that there are a group of different mutations happening for the virus.
  2. What we know so far about BA.275 IS that it has certainly evolved over time and has become more efficient in transmitting itself. Now, it is able to evade the immune response that people have developed against the virus.
  3. If you talk about Delhi, though the numbers have seen a spike in last few weeks, it is still low. One thing we have noticed is that many of the people who are getting hospitalised have only received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, they have still not got the third dose, which we call a booster or precautionary dose. It is important for people to understand that the third dose is needed to get a stronger and durable immune response against Omicron or other variants that are circulating and are evolving on a day-to-day basis.
  4. When the vaccines were first developed, it looked like these vaccines will have a stronger level of protection, not only against the severity of the disease but against reinfections as well. But over the years, the virus has evolved, it has learned to escape the antibodies in the body itself and is able to cause infection again. But thanks to the immunisation, the T-Cell immunity or cell mediated immune responses is still protecting all of us against the severity of the disease. And that’s why we have seen even when the number of infections goes up, the number of people getting hospitalised remains low. The protection against the severe disease is still maintained, even against new variants or BA.275 variant. But to get better protection, third dose is important.
  5. There will probably be a few people who will need additional shot, but the majority of the population will not need the fourth dose or second booster shot. Three doses will be enough. There are people with very weak immunity, the elderly, also those who have underlying immune-suppression conditions or those who are on drugs that suppresses the immune and there are people who are born with congenital immune deficiencies, such people will need an additional dosage or the fourth shot. However, it is important to note that there isn’t a lot of evidence that suggests that fourth dose really is needed for long term protection. What is being seen is that the fourth dose does increase the antibodies in the body but that is temporary, after a few weeks it goes down. The important part is the protection against the long-term disease and that is very well given even with the three doses of vaccine.
  6. Currently, there are many companies that are working on the booster dosage for Omicron, there are also about 10 nasal vaccines and about 5 oral vaccines that are on clinical stages. It will be very interesting to wait and see the results because the mixed response would be better. Ultimately, the goal for everyone is to have an immune response against COVID, which are broad and long lasting because we will not know what next variant will be and how deadly it will be. If we are making variant adaptive vaccines based on previous variants, it takes about six months to develop, we will always be playing catch-up. The goal has to be on adding up multiple antigens, add it beyond spike protein. We should also try and look for different routes to administer the vaccine as that will give us better and longer immune response. Ultimately scientists will like to develop a coronavirus vaccine which will broadly be able to protect us all against all the variants.

Also Read: COVID Patients At Higher Risk Of Psychiatric, Neurological Conditions After Two Years: Lancet Study

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 populationindigenous 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 (WaterSanitation 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 pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual 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.

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