India has classified a new variant of the coronavirus first identified in Europe as a ‘variant of concern’.
A mutation is raised from a “variant of interest” to a “variant of concern” (VOC) when it shows that it meets at least one of several criteria, in particular easy transmission, more serious disease, reduced neutralization by antibodies or reduced efficacy of treatment and vaccines.
India’s Ministry of Health says studies have shown that the so-called Delta Plus variant – also known as AY.1 – spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to therapy with monoclonal antibodies, a powerful intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralize the virus.
The variant is linked to the delta, an existing variant of concern, which was first identified in India last year and is believed to have resulted in the second deadly wave of infections in the summer.
The Health Ministry said the Delta Plus variant, first discovered in India in April, was detected in 22 samples from six districts in three states – Maharashtra, Kerala and Madhya Pradesh. Sixteen of those samples were found in Maharashtra, one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic.
Delta Plus has also been found in nine other countries – US, UK, Portugal, Switzerland, Japan, Poland, Nepal, Russia and China – compared to the original highly contagious Delta strain, which has now spread throughout 80 countries.
Viruses mutate all the time, and most changes are harmless. Some even harm the virus. But others can make the disease more infectious or threatening – and these mutations tend to dominate.
But prominent virologists have questioned the labeling of Delta Plus as a variant of concern, saying there is no data yet to prove the variant is more infectious or causes more severe disease compared to others. variants.
“There is no data yet to support the 22-sequence-based variant of concern claim,” said Dr Gagandeep Kang, a virologist and the first Indian woman to be elected to the Royal Society of London.
“You need biological and clinical information to determine if this is truly a variant of concern.”
This means India needs more data to determine whether the variant is neutralized by antibodies generated by available vaccines or infection with another variant of the coronavirus.
In addition, a lot of data is needed on increased transmissibility, diagnostic failures – routine tests do not detect the variant – and whether the variant causes more serious disease.
“You have to study a few hundred patients with this disease and this variant and find out if they are at a greater risk of more serious disease than the ancestral variant,” said Dr Kang.
The Delta plus variant contains an additional mutation called K417N on the coronavirus peak, which was found in the beta and gamma variants, first found in South Africa and Brazil respectively (beta was linked to increased hospitalizations and deaths in the first wave of infections in South Africa, while Gamma has been estimated to be highly transmissible).
Even with 166 examples of Delta Plus shared on GISAID, an open global sharing database, “we don’t have much reason to believe it’s more dangerous than the original Delta,” says Dr Jeremy Kamil , virologist at Louisiana State University. Health Sciences Center in Shreveport.
“Delta Plus may have a slight advantage in infecting and spreading between people who have already been infected earlier during the pandemic or who have weak or incomplete immunity to the vaccine,” Dr. Kamil told me.
“I would keep my cool. I don’t think India or anyone in the world has published or accumulated enough data to distinguish the risk of the so-called Delta Plus as being more dangerous or of concern than the original Delta variant. “
Dr Anurag Agarwal, director of the Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), one of the 28 Indian laboratories involved in genome sequencing, said that “all Delta virus lines are variants of concern, “so there was nothing unusual about labeling Delta Plus as such.
“We have no indicators at this time that Delta Plus should cause public health concern or panic. We do not see anything to worry about at this time. We are monitoring it closely and are stepping up all health measures. public, ”he said.
Dr Kamil said the Indian government “would rather overreact now than appear indifferent later, as was the case with the Delta variant”.
Most scientists say India has dropped the sequencing of a sufficient number of samples for the variant that fueled a massive second wave of Covid infections in India in April and May.
“I’m not too worried. But it’s fair to keep an eye out for the variant.”