A double mutant variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been discovered in India. This is another in a line of variants being found around the world like the UK, South Africa, Brazil and New York variants. The National Centre announced Disease Control on March 25 after the mutations were recognized in Maharashtra, Delhi, and Punjab samples.
Its name ‘double mutant’ comes from the fact that two mutations, E484Q and L452R, have appeared in the virus simultaneously. The E484Q mutation is similar to the E484K mutation found in the Brazilian and South African variants. It can lead to changes in the shape of the spike protein, which is the outer layer of a virus used to bind to and infect human cells. A significant difference in the spike protein can lead to vaccines being rendered ineffective as antibodies might not recognize the virus and fight it.
The L452R mutation has been responsible for outbreaks in California and has been found in large numbers in Maharashtra. Scientists have said there is reason to believe that this mutation increases the infectivity of the virus and might also help the virus avoid antibodies that earlier infections or vaccines produced. If this result is found to be conclusively true, this mutation can be a significant cause of concern.
The UK B117 variant, which has the N501Y mutation, is very dangerous as it is 60% more infectious. This variant has been found across India as well as 125 countries in the world. There is a real worry that this variant might become dominant in India.
It is a relief that vaccine companies have assured that if a variant were to emerge that manages to evade the vaccine, it would take them only six weeks to modify the vaccine to target that variant. The influenza virus is notorious for mutating very quickly, and the vaccine has to be modified every year to keep up with the virus. The same could be done with the Covid vaccine. Modified booster shots that target the dominant variant could be a key to future vaccinations.
The US Centre for Disease Control also released a graph of covid variants present in the United States.
India has been hit hard by the second wave of the coronavirus as the country is recording over 1,50,000 cases every day, the highest ever. Multiple states have announced night curfews and partial lockdowns to control the spread of the virus. Vaccines and medicines have run out of stock in some states, and hospitals in major cities cannot admit new patients due to a lack of beds.
The Centre has given three reasons why there has been a sharp rise in the number of infections: lack of adherence to covid norms, pandemic fatigue and lack of implementation of containment measures. Experts say that the public slack and negligence by the government has led to such a destructive second wave. Virologist T Jacob John told PTI that political parties, religious groups and the public lowered their guard after the first wave and schools and colleges opened without students and teachers being vaccinated.
Dr Gauri Agarwal, the Founder-Director of Genestrings Diagnostic Centre, told ANI,” The primary reason for the rise in cases is a rampant violation of Covid protocols. From the end of last year, we have seen how people have been careless about following protocols and this rise in cases is no surprise.”