Kolkata: It is almost a year since Covid-19 virus was first identified. However, once again the world is on red alert, this time because of new Covid-19 variant which has been detected in the U.K. The severity of the infection and its transmissibility is still being assessed, however scientists believe that it can be more infectious. Dr. Sanjay Bhattacharya, Consultant Microbiology, Tata Medical Center, Kolkata helps eNewsroom track the virus movement across the world, at the same time, he sheds light on the efficacy of the new vaccine being rolled out and its impact in India.
eNewsroom: So far there are more than 240 mutations found in India. How concerned we should be about the new variant?
Dr. Sanjay: New strains or new variants of SARS Coronavirus Type 2 have emerged in different parts of the world. They were first reported from the United Kingdom and then subsequently from South Africa and Brazil. These strains are genetic variants of the SARS CoV-2 virus which evolves as a result of various selection pressures. Variation in genetic composition of microbes over time as a result of evolutionary pressures are not uncommon and are seen in most microbes associated with various infectious diseases (examples include Influenza virus, HIV among others). It has been observed by researchers that these variants have a greater propensity to spread from person and person; hence the rate of transmission within affected communities may be faster. In India, research and reference laboratories approved by the government have developed tests to detect these variants. These tests are complex and expensive and cannot be done in any lab doing Covid -19 sample testing. Variants detected within India are generally from travellers coming from countries affected by the variant strains. We need to be careful and do the standard things recommended by the government in all situations.
eNewsroom: What according to you will be the efficacy of the new vaccines being rolled out in the market, will it still remain as effective?
Dr. Sanjay: The efficacy of the Covid vaccine against the variant strains is a subject of ongoing clinical research. For assessment of vaccine efficacy longitudinal studies over weeks, months and sometimes years have to be done. As vaccination against Covid-19 becomes more common we will learn in the due course the relative efficacy of various vaccines against common and variant strains.
eNewsroom: Should there be any additional measure to protect oneself from the new strain in Kolkata?
Dr. Sanjay: Caution is required while travelling, especially travelling abroad to countries affected by the new variant strains. Quarantine and testing are required post arrival from the affected countries. We should also follow whatever the health authorities in our respective areas advise. This may imply certain travel restrictions, use of standard precautions, testing of symptomatic and contacts.
eNewsroom: What is the implication of the virus in India?
Dr. Sanjay: India has done well in controlling the virus through elaborate testing, travel restrictions, and other Covid-19 related health and social measures. We need to follow guidelines provided by the government. Only time can tell what would-be long-term implications of the new variant strain within India.
Multiple factors affect infection related outcomes- virus factor is one of them but there are also host factors (mainly related to the optimal response of the human body’s immune response to the virus. Besides timelines of diagnosis and medical interventions make a lot of difference. The public should strictly follow government’s health advisories, standard precautions including use of mask, hand hygiene and social distancing as far as possible); get tested if symptomatic. Covid-19 is a global infectious disease which is testing our society’s preparedness with respect to healthcare and adherence to guidelines.