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  • Raghav Sand

Covid-19 Variants and Natural Selection

Hugs, handshakes and high-fives can wait a little longer. If you feel that getting the first dose of a two-dose vaccine or both the doses is a permit for discarding covid-19-appropriate behaviour, think multiple times how your carelessness can harm you and those around you. As the positivity rate and caseload climbs down, authorities all over the world ease restrictions placed to terminate the spread of Covid-19 virus. Decision for regional lockdown is based on the severity of new infections and economic parameters. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is stubborn. Given the size of world population, Covid-19 virus has more than a billion chances of hitting the mutation jackpot.

One is Better Than None

When it comes to vaccination for Covid-19 virus, one is better than none, while second dose or booster shot increase the overall efficacy. Every time a new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus becomes dominant, scientists and health officials start collecting evidence regarding the efficacy of available vaccines against the altered pathogen. Bulk of the cases in the past three months have severely affected the unvaccinated people. Vaccine hesitancy is fading away in most parts of India, and slowly supplies are becoming more predictable.

Geek with Greek

World Health Organization (WHO), in collaboration with partners, expert networks, national authorities, institutions and researchers have been monitoring and assessing the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 since January 2020. During late 2020, the emergence of variants that posed an increased risk to global public health prompted the characterization of specific Variants of Interest (VOIs) and Variants of Concern (VOCs), in order to prioritize global monitoring and research, and ultimately to inform the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

WHO has strongly advised against naming variants of Covid-19 virus based on the country where earliest samples of a particular variant was first documented. The B.1.1.7 (Alpha), B.1.351 (Beta), P.1 (Gamma), B.1.427 (Epsilon), B.1.429 (Epsilon), and B.1.617.2 (Delta) variants are circulating in the world and depending upon the prevalence a variant is either VOI or VOC.

Characteristics of VOI and VOC

As per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a VOI is “A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.”

On the other hand, VOC is “A variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.”

The Delta variant, inappropriately and irresponsibly referred as the Indian variant, is 80 per cent more transmissible than the Alpha variant first detected in United Kingdom in September 2020. By increasing the interval between the doses of Oxford–AstraZeneca COVID‑19 vaccine, known as Covishield in India, health authorities are trying to administer at least one dose to more people. The intention behind such a move is understandable, given the intensity of the last wave of infections, which created havoc in the month of April and May.

Large number of people in the world and connectedness are making it easier for the virus to mutate. During the flu of 1918, the world population was one-fourth of what it is now and very few people travelled for work, education and leisure. The outbreak of 1918 wiped off millions and ran its course. Since then, vaccine development and overall healthcare has improved leaps and bounds.

Let us Try to Make the World Flat, Again

Presently, most of the international travel is taking place with the help of air transport bubbles. Another methodology being used by some countries is to categorize other countries with colour codes based upon the severity of Covid-19 cases. For example, a country with high number cases is being put in the red list, while moderate and low cases are put in the orange and green list, respectively. To dodge the checks and balances, people from the red list are avoiding direct flights to their destination.

Developed nations are vaccinating their citizens at an unprecedented rate. They have also started sharing doses with middle- and low-income countries. What is the motivation for rich nations for sharing vaccine with other less-advantaged and high caseload nations? One part of it is humanitarian, while rest of it is for selfish reasons. Countries of all shapes and sizes cannot afford to keep their borders closed for the foreseeable future.

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