The B.1.617 coronavirus variant devastating India now has arrived in the United States. Experts say it probably won’t do much damage here because it’s high Vaccination rates and because the health system is not under stress. But with a virus that defied expectations and the variant Infect hundreds of thousands of Indians Researchers observe this every day.
Here’s what you need to know about the variant of coronavirus native to India:
What is variant B.1.617?
It first appeared in India, where it is believed to have contributed to that nation’s devastating second wave of COVID-19. It was named a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization last week on fears that it could be more contagious and make it easier to evade existing vaccines.
There are several sub-lines of the variant, including B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2.
It is sometimes referred to as a “double mutant” because it has twice as many mutations as some previous variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Worry firstwas that could make it doubly dangerous. “The good news is that it doesn’t seem to be. Having both mutations was no worse than just one,” said Dr. Charles Chiu, professor and expert in viral genomics at the University of California at San Francisco.
Is it in the united states?
Yes. The US is one of 49 countries where the variant has spread, but so far it’s at a low level here. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, variant B.1.617 accounted for 3% of all COVID-19 cases in the United States on May 8. It appears to outperform variant B.1.1.7, which was first seen in the UK, at least in India, said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, Fellow of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and an Infectious Disease Specialist at the Medical University of South Carolina. B.1.1.7 now accounts for 72% of COVID-19 infections in the US. According to CDC data released on Wednesday.
Is the variant more contagious?
The variant is like thisWhat’s new is that there isn’t a lot of solid data from the real world. It is certainly spreading quickly in India, but that country is only 11% vaccinated, mostly with first doses of vaccine. Laboratory studies seem to suggest that it isn’t more contagious.
A study that looked at how good the variant was able to enter cells found it was no better at it than other types of SARS-CoV-2, Chiu said.
Will it gain a foothold in the United States?
It’s impossible to know, but given the high vaccination rate here, it seems unlikely that it will replace the currently dominant B.1.1.7 strain. With nearly 47% of people in the US being at least partially vaccinated, it becomes more difficult for a new strain to take control. “We have a high level of vaccination in the community and even though it is here it has less room to grow,” said Dr. Monica Gandhi, Infectious Disease Specialist at the University of California at San Francisco.
Do the US vaccines work against the variant?
They seem to be working. Blood samples from previously infected or vaccinated people were only one-seventh as effective against variant B.1.617 as against the original virus, but this is believed to be enough to protect against serious illness and hospitalization in particular, said Mehul Suthar, a virologist at Emory University, the Co-author of a paper on the variant published May 10, but not yet peer-reviewed.
“Despite this reduction, all vaccine blood samples and nearly 80% of blood samples from people who had previously been infected retained the ability to block this Indian variant,” Suthar said.
“We have no reason to believe that the vaccine’s response to this strain is a problem,” said Dr. Eric Topol, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. “This has been studied in Israel and elsewhere, and the mutations do not appear to be able to evade the vaccines.”
Studies have also shown that the vaccines are effective against the two main mutations in this variant. “So it is reasonable to conclude that the vaccines are likely to be effective against the variant,” Chiu said.
Are people who have recovered from COVID-19 protected against B.1.617?
Not as good as if they had been vaccinated. In laboratory tests, the vaccines offer a much stronger immune response overall. “Recoverers may not be as protected as those who have been vaccinated,” Chiu said.
However, he noted that what happens in the laboratory doesn’t necessarily correlate with what happens inside people. “We’re extrapolating,” he said.
If the vaccine is working so well, why are things so bad in India?
Because India’s vaccination rate is very low. Only about 10% of India’s 1.3 billion people have been vaccinated with at least one dose of vaccine, and only 2.8% have been fully vaccinated. If people there who have a dose of vaccine get infected, “they only have mild infections,” Gandhi said.
The vaccine’s decreased effectiveness means more people will need to be vaccinated to ensure the same level of civil protection, Suthar said.
“It really underscores the need to increase vaccination rates and how vaccines provide a way forward to reduce the number of infections and quell the really dire situation in India right now,” Suthar said.
India’s problems go far beyond the variant.
The high density in the cities makes it easy to spread, and the lack of infrastructure in the rural areas makes it difficult to follow the pandemic and care for the sick.
“After overcoming the first wave of infections (last year) there was this false narrative that India may have overcome COVID,” Kuppalli said.
That trust encouraged the government to relax its efforts like masking, distancing and avoiding crowds, “she said.” If one relaxes public health measures in the face of population density and socio-economic issues, it was really ripe for the spread of these measures to develop in infections. “
Another major challenge was spreading misinformation through social media, mostly about folk remedies to fight off COVID-19, said Kasisomayajula Viswanath, professor of health communication at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
“There is a trust in these types of folk remedies that are being relayed,” he said on a media call. He declined to point out details because he didn’t want to feed the rumors.
Viswanath said 170 million Indians were vaccinated once, but only 13 million were fully vaccinated from a country of 1.3 billion. Even if enough vaccines were available, it would take a long time to vaccinate enough people to lower the infection rate, he said.
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