Delta Plus Not A Variant of Concern; May Affect Efficacy of Vaccines to Some Extent: Randeep Guleria

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The delta plus variant of coronavirus may affect the efficacy of the vaccines available in India but it will still be effective against the variant, said AIIMS director Randeep Guleria on Wednesday. The delta plus is a variant of interest and not of concern yet, he said. On the limitation of vaccination in preventing spread of COVID-19, the senior doctor said that people may contract the virus even after getting inoculated but “our main aim is to prevent deaths and serious illness”.

On the issue of increased gap between the two doses of Covishield vaccine, he said the current data looked at by the National Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (NTAGI) has found evidence that the delay increases the immunity against COVID-19. However, he added, “As the data emerges, the authorities may change the protocol but as of now the data is quite solid on the current duration.”

Addressing concerns over the government’s decision to increase the gap between two doses of Covishield from four-six weeks to 12-16 weeks, Guleria to CNN-News18, “When the data was evaluated, the alpha variant was dominant and it has changed, the delta variant is more dominant now. Both variants are infectious, even alpha variant was found more infectious than the previous variants. The data need to be looked at critically. Further decision can be taken once the data is looked at critically and they look at it from the point of view of getting the crude data. It has to be taken after looking at scientific evidence and can’t be a knee jerk reaction.”

In view of spike in new coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom, which has vaccinated almost 62 per cent with the first jab and fully inoculated 44 per cent of its population, Guleria commented on the question of limitation of the vaccination drive saying, “We are always saying that vaccination has its limitation in terms of infection. I think, we need to again understand what is the protection that the vaccine gives. To a large extent, the vaccine will definitely protect you from severe disease, in terms of hospitalisation or death. But the vaccine may not protect you that much from the infection. You may still get the COVID-19 infection but it may be milder or you may be asymptomatic and you will recover quickly because you have antibodies in your blood. You may be infected and may spread it to others but the virus will not multiply to the extent that it will cause a severe damage to your body.”

Emphasising on the priority of the government and the health authorities, he said, “Our main aim is to prevent deaths and serious illness. We will also decrease the number of cases but that may not happen at a larger extent than what we see as far as mortality is concerned.”

As delta plus emerges as a new variant of the coronavirus, Guleria addressing concerns around the latest mutant, said, “Currently, the delta plus is a variant of interest. There is not much data to show that this is becoming dominant or this more infectious or causing more mortalities. Having said that, we need to see how this evolves, whether it remains a variant of interest or it becomes a variant of concern.”

“Currently, the cases are few. It doesn’t seem to be a major cause of concern. As far as delta variant is concerned, it is a variant which is more infectious, it is spreading rapidly. It is now taking over from where there was the alpha variant. Delta variant has become a variant of concern because it is spreading rapidly at a global level,” he said.

Guleria reiterated the importance of COVID-appropriate behaviour as he asked people to avoid crowding, wear masks, sanitise hands and maintain social distancing. It is important to open up in gradual manner, he said. The AIIMS director further suggested measures such good surveillance to locate hotspots and contain the virus there itself. He added, “Do basic research to see that the emerging variants are not increasing deficacy of vaccines and if that is there, we need to be able to modify our vaccines quickly so that they are effective against the new variants.”

Earlier, Niti Aayog member VK Paul has said the delta plus variant nullifies the use of monoclonal antibody therapy. Responding to this, Guleria said, “That is a matter of concern. What the data suggests, the efficacy of vaccine does stay there but the monoclonal antibodies, especially the ones introduced in India, they may be less effective because they are made against a particular strain. Their efficacy comes down against a different strain. So, the monoclonal antibodies have not been made for the new variant, therefore they are less effective.”

On the efficacy of vaccines against delta plus variant, he said, “Vaccines have a multi-level immunity, so they still will be effective but their efficacy may come down to a certain extent.”

Further, on the question of a possible third wave of coronavirus, the AIIMS director said, “A lot depends on our behaviour. If we are able to avoid crowds, super spreader events and carry out aggressive surveillance, containment measures and vaccination, the third wave may not be very large and may be delayed. It depends on how we behave in the next few months.”

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