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COVID-19 variants in India: How do they spread and are vaccines effective?

Viruses have the remarkable ability to evolve over time and undergo mutations. Mutations occur when the virus modifies itself while replicating, to produce copies. A mutated virus is known as a variant of the original one. While most viral mutations can be insignificant, there are certain mutations that may increase the virulence thereby making it less reactive to vaccines. With surging cases of COVID-19 in India, scientists are researching different COVID-19 variants.

The two COVID-19 variants names are Delta and Kappa, using Greek alphabets for the nomenclature. While B.1.617.1 is the Kappa COVID variant, the Delta COVID variant is B.1.617.2. Both these variants were first found in India before they spread to other countries. Another Delta plus variant known as AY.1, which initially originated in Europe, has been found in India as well. This variant is dangerous as it binds easily to lung cells.

For more insight on different Indian COVID-19 variants, how they spread and how effective the vaccines are in tackling them, read on.

Additional read: How Will the COVID 3rd Wave Differ? Symptoms and Tips to Stay Safe

Where were the COVID-19 variants first found in India?

The COVID-19 variants in India including B.1.617, B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 were prevalent in many Indian states. The first Indian variant to have originated in October was B.1.617, which was the prime cause for the second COVID-19 wave. It was first reported in the state of Maharashtra and then spread to the other states. This has 3 sub-variants, of which the Delta variant was first detected in India in December 2020. The Kappa variant is known as the Indian double mutant as it has undergone double mutations in its outer spike protein. This was first seen in Uttar Pradesh. However, the Delta plus variant was detected in three states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Kerala.

Given below is a tabular form of the COVID-19 variants list as given by WHO with the Delta and Kappa variants prevalent in India.

Alpha B.1.1.7
Beta B.1.351
Gamma P.1
Delta B.1.617.2
Eta B.1.525
Kappa B.1.617.1
Iota B.1.526
Lamda C.37

How do COVID-19 variants spread?

While much about the virulence of the Kappa variant is not known, it may also result in community transmissions. The Delta variant also poses high risk as it has increased transmissibility. The Delta plus variant or AY.1 is highly resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy. This procedure aims to neutralize the virus by infusing antibodies intravenously.

The Delta plus is known to be a dangerous variant as it spreads rapidly and has a greater capacity to bind to the lungs. However, there have been no studies which claim this variant is more infectious than the other variants. Some of the symptoms experienced by individuals affected with the Delta plus variant include sore throat, headache and runny nose.

COVID-19 variants and vaccine efficacy: Are vaccines in India effective?

There are four different types of vaccines in India that include the following:

  • A whole virus vaccine is a live attenuated vaccine in which a weak form of virus which is still capable of replicating is used. Another approach is to use a virus in which the genetic material is completely destroyed, but still triggers an immune response. Covaxin is a vaccine that falls under this category.

  • In a protein subunit vaccine, viral protein fragments are used to elicit an immune response. The new Corbevax vaccine falls under this category, which is expected to be available in India by September 2021.

  • Another one is the nucleic acid vaccine, which uses genetic material to give instructions to the cells to make an antigen, which triggers an immune response. The Moderna vaccine is an example of this.

  • A viral vector vaccine also gives instructions to cells to produce antigens. However, unlike the nucleic acid vaccine, here a harmless virus like adenovirus is used as a vector for triggering an immune response. Covishield and Sputnik V are two of these types of vaccines in India.

When it comes to their effectiveness, a study revealed that the AstraZeneca vaccine, Covishield, is found to be effective against the Indian variant, Delta B.1.617.2. It was revealed that two doses of this vaccine showed significant results of 60% effectiveness against the Delta variant. Covaxin has also been found to be 61% effective against the same variant. When it comes Sputnik V, the efficiency overall was found to be 78.6% to 83.7%, as per trials and its decrease in effectiveness for the Delta variant is considered negligible.

However, since all vaccines induce a broad immune response, they are usually effective against a range of variants.

Follow COVID-19 care measures to prevent infection

COVID-19 care is necessary to ensure that you and your dear ones don’t get affected. Follow social distancing and ensure that you wear masks whenever you step out. However, if someone from your family is affected, wear a mask even at home. Use a hand sanitizer when you are outside and wash your hands thoroughly with soap while at home. However, if you feel uneasy or high fever persists, don’t hesitate to get a COVID-19 test done. Isolate yourself and ensure to keep yourself hydrated by drinking lots of fluids.

Stopping the spread of COVID-19 variants is the key to preventing the infection from reaching all corners of the county. Follow COVID-19 care protocols systematically as this will provide much needed safety against these variants. Prevention is better than cure, so do not delay in getting yourself vaccinated. Find vaccine availability close to you with the vaccination slot tracker on Bajaj Finserv Health. This way you get notified when there are COVID-19 vaccination slots and can take measures to protect yourself and your loved ones.

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