Beware of Indian “double mutant” Covid variant

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Israel found Indian strain even among people already vaccinated.

Ministers or politicians who think the worst is over and this year will be the end of the Coronavirus pandemic are either naive or clueless about science. The worst part is when some high-ranking officials of the Ministry of Health help an incompetent government to hide and manipulate data of Covid-19 cases for selfish political or personal gains.

If you ask a doctor, any type of medical doctor, they will quietly tell you that the pandemic is here for another two years, if we’re lucky. That’s the most optimistic view. On the other hand, a scientist or virologist or even Moderna CEO will tell you that the world will have to live with Covid-19 forever. The pandemic may fade, but the virus will never be eliminated.

By now, people should understand that vaccines, no matter how impressive its efficacy is being trumpeted, are not bulletproof. Drugmakers are not sure themselves how long the protection will last. As governments struggle with supply, pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer have already started talking about the need for a third “booster” dose within 12 months.

The biggest problem with the Covid-19 pandemic is its mutations. We know it keeps mutating, but we do not know when the mutation will stop, or at least slow down. Some say it will eventually stop mutating after reaching a certain stage, but others disagree. It’s these mutations that make even the most powerful vaccines slowly losing its efficacy or efficiency.

For months, new variants of Coronavirus have been emerging and spreading around the world. In fact, there are thousands of variants, or different versions, of Covid-19. But the top three most famous were the UK, South Africa and Brazil variants. Even as the US administers about 2.5 million Covid-19 vaccine shots every day, it still struggles in the race between vaccinations and variants.

While the Brazilian variant (also known as P.1) first emerged in July and has something called E484K mutation, the UK or “Kent” version (known as B.1.1.7) has become famous after it spread to about 100 countries since it emerged in September. South Africa’s variant (known as B.1.351), meanwhile, has been found in at least 20 countries, including the UK.

The notorious UK variant is up to 70% more infectious, largely because of one mutation called “N501Y”. But the South Africa variant is more dangerous than the UK version because it has both “N501Y” and “E484K” mutations. Sure, the N501Y plays a major role in spreading. But the E484K helps the virus evade antibodies and parts of the immune system that can fight Coronavirus.

And since the South African variant can escape immunity, the body will not be able to fight the virus. It was already bad that the N501Y could turbocharge its engine up to 70% more speed to spread to 100 countries. It becomes worse that E484K could transform itself into a new Camaro like the Bumblebee – hence the ability to evade vaccines.

Even though Pfizer and BioNTech declared as recently as April 1 that their Covid-19 vaccine was highly effective against the South African variant, new data revealed by researchers at Tel Aviv University and Clalit, the largest healthcare organization in Israel, show otherwise. The Israeli data show the variant is able to “break through” or penetrate the protection offered by the Pfizer vaccine.

But that was slightly more than two weeks ago. Today, the Health Ministry of Israel has more bad news. It has identified not only 41 new cases of the Indian variant in Israel, but also found four cases in people who have already been vaccinated. Apparently, 24 of those infected with the new variant from India have recently returned from abroad.

The remaining 17 cases, meanwhile, were due to community transmission, including five children at five separate schools. Worse, some of them had no clear links to someone who did, suggesting that the variant is spreading undetected. This lends credence to the recent discovery that not only the South African variant can evade the Pfizer vaccine, the Indian variant, too, possesses similar capability.

Reuters

And since children cannot currently be vaccinated, this has raised fears of a new outbreak among kids. Israel has issued travel restrictions for seven high-risk countries – India, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey. Israelis who return from those countries will be required to enter isolation or quarantine – even if they are vaccinated or have recovered.

The Indian variant became an overnight sensation after the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic spread like a tsunami in India. The country, which saw just 10,000 news cases a day in February, suddenly spiked up to 386,555 new cases on Thursday (April 29). The new variant spread so fast that it caused more than 60% of all Coronavirus infections in the Indian state of Maharashtra alone.

The second wave, which started in the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, has now engulfed almost the entire India. Scientists are particularly alarmed that the Indian “double mutant” – also known as B.1.617 – carries two mutations – the variants first identified in California (B.1.427 and B.1.429) and those discovered in South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1).

Also known as the E484Q (UK and South Africa) and L452R (California) mutations, the Indian strain has already hopped to at least 21 countries, including Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Romania, Switzerland,  Namibia, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK and the US Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is believed to be the most effective against Coronavirus variants.

At least that was what Israel thought. The country has used the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine almost exclusively to vaccinate millions of citizens and healthcare workers. Its national vaccination campaign, which began in Dec 2020, has now fully immunised 81% of citizens or residents over the age of 16. Essentially, Israel has the highest vaccinated population in the world per capita.

But with the latest discovery, the initial impression that Pfizer has excellent efficacy against the Indian variant is fast losing its shine. Despite its impressive vaccination number, Israel has acknowledged that the country has not reached herd immunity, especially with the new Indian variant found. The best part is, not much is known about the new variant. – Finance Twitter