New Delhi: After a new mutation of Covid-19 was found in South Africa and announced in December 2020, medical experts said that the countries that have greater “genomic surveillance” ability will report more variants.
Rajeev Jayadevan, vice chairman of the epidemiology cell, Indian Medical Association, Kerala state, told The Sunday Guardian, “The virus is present all over the world and some countries are able to conduct active genomic surveillance. Active genomic surveillance involves constantly checking the genomic code of the virus and comparing with the previous ones. In places like Britain and South Africa, when a virus changes its character, they are able to find it immediately because of better ability to conduct genomic surveillance. In India, our ability to do genomic surveillance is relatively lower.”
He further said, “Places with greater genomic surveillance will report more variants quickly. The first country to report the recent variants was the UK and it is called B117 variant and then came the 501Y.V2 variant from South Africa.”
Talking about whether the current vaccine would be effective against the strain, Jayadevan said, “It is a difficult question to answer because whatever we find in the laboratory—such as the neutralising effect of antibodies against new strain—are just a fragment of our immunity. These laboratory studies, while essential, need not represent the true picture in the real world. The effectiveness of the vaccine can only be known through long term observation. Our belief is that, even if there are new strains and some changes in the virus, the vaccine will still protect us from severe disease. This is because there are several parts of the virus that a vaccine can target, and a few genetic changes here and there will not make a big difference.”
Talking about the variants in India, he said that there will be more variants across the country and it will be mutating as per the local conditions. Talking about South Africa asking the Serum Institute to take back the vaccine, Jayadevan told The Sunday Guardian, “The number of people studied there was not big enough in order to conclude anything on the effectiveness of the vaccine.”
He further said that it is not true that South Africa has returned the Astrazeneca vaccine. “In fact, South Africa has decided to supply the vaccine to other African countries,” Jayadevan said.