The Sars-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19 is continuing to mutate as a survival mechanism and creating different strains. Alpha, the first detected variant of the original virus that emerged from China, was more contagious than the original virus. Alpha soon mutated, giving rise to the Delta variant. The Delta (B.1.617.2) variant strain emerged as the dominant variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus and caused the deadly second wave. It has been found to have mutated and created a new strain called the Delta plus (AY.1) variant and has recently been detected in 3 states of India, causing widespread alarm. The Delta and Delta Plus variants have now been declared ‘Variants of Concern’ by the World Health Organization. Experts fear that Delta Plus may trigger a catastrophic third wave, as it would easily target the more vulnerable segment of the population, who may fall severely ill and may capitulate to death.
Why has Delta Plus been declared a ‘Variant of Concern’?
Delta Plus variant has been created by the mutation in the spike protein of the Sars-CoV-2 virus – thereby altering its genetic material, which further alters its behaviour. It has been observed that Delta Plus is more contagious: it enters and infects the body’s cells more efficiently, is more virulent and transmits with more ease, clutches tighter to the receptors of the lung cells in particular, and considerably reduces the response of the body’s monoclonal antibodies – these are artificially created clones of antibodies that attack a specific antigen, and are used in the treatment of Covid-19. This means that it is more resistant to treatment. It is, therefore, far more lethal than the earlier variant strains.
Will current vaccines provide protection against variants?
The currently approved vaccines trigger a broad immune response in the body, therefore, these vaccines will not be entirely ineffective and will provide some measure of protection. However, it must be borne in mind that the more a virus gets a chance to spread, the more it flourishes and mutates. World over, there is extensive research afoot on vaccines and their efficacy against the variant strains.
What we can do
- The key to controlling the virus lies in strictly following the prescribed social distancing norms to contain the spread of the virus and break the chain of infection.
- Vaccination for all is imperative and must be accomplished at the earliest, with the strong possibility that new and improved booster doses may be required in the future.
Dr Angeli Misra, Director of Lifeline Laboratory