K. VijayRaghavan flags increased transmissibility of strain.
There is no evidence that current vaccines will fail to protect against COVID-19 variants reported from UK or South Africa, Principal Scientific Advisor K. VijayRaghavan said at a Health Ministry press conference on Tuesday.
Stating that while most vaccines do target the spike protein, in which there are changes in the variants, Prof. VijayRaghavan noted that the vaccine also stimulates the immune system to produce a wide range of protective antibodies and the mutations are not sufficient to make the vaccine ineffective.
He added that the increased transmissibility of the UK variant is a matter of concern and advocated that public health measures be scrupulously followed.
“A vaccine should be available soon but we have to reduce transmission through physical distancing and amplifying testing, tracking and isolating,” he said.
Also addressing the press, Director General of the Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) Balram Bhargava cautioned against the non- judicious use of unestablished therapies to fight the virus which he said would put pressure on the virus to mutate more.
“It’s important that we do not put too much immune pressure on virus. We have to maintain judicious use of therapies which are going to benefit. If benefit isn’t established we shouldn’t use those therapies otherwise it will put pressure on virus and it will tend to mutate more,” cautioned Dr. Bhargava.
Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan said that prior to news of the UK variant, India had done genome sequencing of about 5,000 samples. This number will now increase significantly with 10 government labs starting genome sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 variant, he noted.
“An important development is the establishment of INSACOG, a consortium of 10 government labs across the country to do genome sequencing of COVID-19 as well as any variant of that virus. These labs belong to ICMR, BioTech India, CSIR and Health Ministry,” said Mr. Bhushan.
He added that the active COVID cases in the country now stand at less than 2.7 lakh.
“This number along with death rate is on the decline and positivity rate in the country during the last week stood at only 2.25%. Daily new COVID cases are less than 17,000 after 6 months now, while daily deaths are also less than 300 after 6 months. 55% deaths are found to have occurred in those above 60 years and 70% of the deaths have occurred in males,” Mr. Bhushan said.
According to data released by the Health Ministry an analyses of COVID cases shows that on basis of gender, 63% of total cases were reported in males and 37% cases in females. Age-wise, 8% cases reported below age of 17, 13% in 18-25 age group, 39% in 26-44 age group, 26% in 45-60 age group and 14% in those above 60.
Stating that mutation in the COVID virus was expected and that the U.K. variant has travelled across several countries including India, NITI Aayog member (health ) V.K. Paul said it is easier to contain the virus in the initial stages.
“We will be keeping a watch on any variant apart from the UK one and so far we have found that this variant does not impact the seriousness of the disease though growing numbers can overburden the health system,” he said.