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Much has been written and debated about the third wave of COVID-19 in India. After witnessing the devastation caused by the second wave, which saw thousands of citizens queuing up outside hospitals and a frightening scarcity of oxygen in almost all states, talks about a coming third wave has instilled fear in the minds of people. But just when this will hit the country is not really known except that it is coming soon. The emergence of the Delta Plus variant of COVID-19 is, therefore, a matter of great concern. While scientists are still trying to figure out just how dangerous this variant is, it is important not to let your guard down against the Delta variant. This is because a new study from India says has claimed that the Delta variant of COVID-19 is eight times less sensitive to vaccine antibodies as compared to the original strain that first emerged from Wuhan in China. This strain also generates higher transmission among people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
To come to this conclusion, scientists from the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease looked at more than 100 health workers at three centres across India. Titled "Sars-Cov-2 B.1.617.2 Delta Variant Emergence and Vaccine Breakthrough: Collaborative Study". One of the centres was Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH) in Delhi. It is yet to be peer reviewed.
Researchers of this study found that the Delta variant, which emerged in India, dominates vaccine-breakthrough infections with higher respiratory viral loads compared to non-Delta infections. They also saw that this variant generates greater transmission among the fully vaccinated healthcare workers. Moreover, the study found that, in vitro, the Delta variant is around eight-fold less sensitive to vaccine-elicited antibodies compared to the original virus. Hence, they came to the conclusion that Delta variant is both more transmissible and better able to evade the immunity a patient gets from previous infection as compared to previously circulating coronaviruses.
Viruses mutate and it is not surprising the COVID-19 virus is throwing up so many mutations as time goes by. It is important not to let your guard down at any time. These mutations also happen when you get infected and give the virus a chance to multiply. Fully vaccinated people too cannot lower their guard just because they are inoculated against the virus. Mutations, with enhanced spike proteins for attachment to the lung epithelial cells, have ensured that this virus can now infect many more people than the original strain.
According to the abovementioned study, the combined epidemiological and in vitro data seem to indicate that the dominance of the Delta variant in India was probably driven by a combination of evasion of neutralising antibodies in previously infected individuals and increased virus infectivity resulting in the second wave. However, scientists were quick to point out that severe disease in fully vaccinated people is rare. The study also highlights breakthrough transmission clusters in hospitals associated with the Delta variant of COVID-19, which is concerning and puts emphasis on the importance of infection control measures in the post-vaccination era.
Scientists have predicted a transmission advantage of the Delta variant relative to the original strain in people with pre-existing immunity from vaccine or natural infection as well as in places where there is low vaccine coverage and low prior exposure. But they are confident that extensive vaccination coverage is likely to protect people from moderate to severe disease. They also say that this will bring down the rate of hospitalisation due to the Delta variant of COVID-19.
(With inputs from Agencies)
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