The strain of COVID-19 called the ‘Delta variant’, found to be the primary reason behind India’s second wave, is now ringing alarm bells all over the world. It was declared as a ‘variant of global concern’ in May by the World Health Organization (WHO).
The Delta variant, after acquiring the K417N spike mutation, has now formed the ‘Delta Plus’ or AY.1 variant and is presently classified as a 'variant of concern' in India.
What do we know about the Delta variant? What is Delta Plus? Read on.
What is the Delta variant?
Scientifically termed as B.1.617.2, the Delta variant contains mutations from two separate variants. It is 40%-50% more transmissible than the Alpha strain identified in the UK.
The Delta variant has spread to at least 74 countries. It is also causing concerns in the UK and the US, where it comprises 91% and over 10% of the new cases, respectively.
Chief Scientist at WHO Soumya Swaminathan said that the Delta variant is becoming the dominant variant globally.
Do vaccines work against the Delta variant?
Several studies suggest that compared to other variants, the Delta variant seems to have a stronger resistance to vaccines. However, there's also evidence that COVID vaccine shots are working against it.
According to a new analysis by Public Health England, two doses of Pfizer and AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective against hospitalisation for illness from this variant.
The team behind the Sputnik vaccine, meanwhile, tweeted that theirs was "more efficient against the Delta variant than any other vaccine. But they haven't published the results yet. Early studies show that Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin also offers protection against Delta.
What is the Delta Plus?
The Delta variant has now acquired the K417N spike mutation – to form the ‘Delta Plus’ or AY.1 variant. The earliest sequence of this genome was found in Europe in March this year.
Delta Plus variant has so far been traced in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala, news agency IANS reported. Maharashtra reported the highest number of patients with 21 cases.
Are vaccines effective against the variant?
Alluding to the vaccine efficacy against the variant, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan had said on 22 June that the vaccines being administered in the national vaccination programme – Covishield and Covaxin – are effective against the variant. However, he added that the extent and proportion of antibody titers that they produce would be shared shortly.
What measures should be taken to curtail the spread?
Experts said that there was no cause for concern as of now in India since its (Delta Plus’) frequency is not much. But the Centre has asked states to take immediate steps to contain the spread, increase testing and vaccination in areas that are seeing a rise in the number of cases.
The ministry has urged the states to make their public health response measures 'more focused and effective'.
The states' chief secretaries have also been advised to take up immediate containment measures in the districts and clusters (as identified by INSACOG) and prevent crowds and intermingling of people. These steps include widespread testing, prompt tracing as well as vaccine coverage on priority.
Is the variant found in other countries?
- A recent Public Health England report had said that 63 genomes of the Delta variant with the K417N mutation have been identified on the GISAID (a global science initiative that provides genomic data of influenza viruses), including six in India, as of 7 June 2021.
- Thirty-six cases have been found in England.
- The strain was reportedly found in nine countries – the US, the UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, China, and Russia.
Former chief of Indian Council of Medical Research Dr Raman Gangakhedkar on Saturday said there was not enough data to claim that Delta Plus is spreading rapidly in the country.
He added that more data will be required to comment on its virulence and probable antibody-escape characteristics
Tamil Nadu reported the first death due to the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19 as a Madurai patient detected with the variant succumbed to the virus, Hindustan Times reported.
(With inputs from IANS and Hindustan Times)