COVID19 vaccines will work against new variants of the coronavirus and there is no evidence that current vaccines will fail to protect against the SARS-CoV-2 mutants reported from the United Kingdom or South Africa, the government said on Tuesday.
Principal Scientific Advisor K Vijay Raghavan said: “There is no evidence that current vaccines will fail to protect against COVID19 variants reported from the UK or South Africa. Vaccines stimulate our immune system to produce a wide range of protective antibodies. The changes in the variants are not sufficient to make the vaccines ineffective.”
“If you look at the surface of SARS-CoV2, there are changes in the spike proteins in the UK and South Africa variants. There are 17 changes in the UK variant of the coronavirus, of which eight are very important… These eight changes the spike protein,” he said.
The virus enters human cell through receptors. N501Y increases affinity for the ACE2 receptor used for viral entry into human cells, Raghavan said, underlining there is a concern about the new variants.
“This is spreading very rapidly and taking over the frequency of all other variants as dominating them. This is also reflected in large positivity in the UK. The positivity has gone up in the UK substantially but the fraction of positivity which is due to this variant has also gone up substantially,” Raghavan said. It is important globally because this increases transmission, he stressed.
The principal scientific advisor, however, stated that there is no evidence so far that it spikes severity of the disease, but because it increases transmission it will lead to rise in the number of people who are affected and therefore the number of severely diseased.
“Therefore, we must take extraordinary precautions to prevent these kinds of variants from dominating the population,” he said.
“We are not only sequencing our population who have been tested positive by choosing representative samples, but we will also test these samples in the laboratory to see whether the infectivity has increased and do field studies to see whether transmission of any specific variants have increased. This will protect us substantially and it is very important from the scientific perspective about what we are doing. So, (we are) testing and sequencing samples across the country, from international travellers and those from hospitals,” he said.
Raghavan urged people not to be complacent. A vaccine will be available soon and that will be the exit visa from this for sure, he said.