India’s B.1.617 COVID-19 Variant Classified as Variant of Concern at the Global Level by WHO; From Increased Transmissibility to Vaccination, Everything We Know so Far

India’s B.1.617 COVID-19 has been classified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization on Monday making it the fourth on the list overall. WHO revealed that B.1.617 strain, which was first identified in India indicates that the variant has the “highest public health implications.” India has been grappling with the second wave of COVID-19 and brought to the knees by lack of resources and shortage of vaccination.  India is the world’s second worst-hit country, reporting more than 22.66 million infections and more than 246,000 deaths to date, as per India’s health ministry shows. The Indian variant is said to have been already spread in other countries. The Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa confirmed four cases of the B.1.617.2 variant, which was first detected in India, were registered in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and all the infected persons had a recent history of travelling from the South Asian nation.

The UN health agency said the B.1.617 variant of Covid-19 first found in India last October seemed to be transmitting more easily than the original version of the virus, and might possibly have some increased resistance to vaccine protections. “There is some available information to suggest increased transmissibility of the B.1.617,” Maria Van Kerkove, the WHO’s lead on Covid-19, told reporters, also pointing to early studies “suggesting that there is some reduced neutralisation”. COVID-19 Double Mutant B.1.617: How Dangerous Is This Indian Variant of SARS-CoV-2? Everything You Want to Know. 

What is a ‘Variant of Concern’?

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

Increased Transmissibility

The World Health Organization said Monday that it is reclassifying the strain as a “variant of concern.” It was previously named a “variant of interest,” which is a lower level of alert. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, Covid-19 technical lead at the WHO, said there is information suggesting that B.1.617 has “increased transmissibility” and “some reduced neutralization.” Variants of concern are more contagious, cause more severe disease or reduce the effectiveness of public health measures, vaccines or medication, according to the UN health agency.

B.1.617- ‘Double Mutant’

B.1.617 has three sub-lineages, each with slightly different mutations, WHO said. As cases in India saw a “major upsurge,” the B.1.617.1 and B.1.617.2 lineages have become more prevalent, the health agency said. The variant has sometimes been referred to as a “double mutant” because it carries two mutations — the E484Q and L452R — that may make the virus more contagious and better at evading the body’s defenses. A third mutation in the variant, the P681R, can potentially lead to “enhanced transmission,” the WHO said.


The WHO also said preliminary laboratory studies found that 28 recipients of Covaxin were able to neutralize the B.1.617 variant. Covaxin is a vaccine developed by India’s Bharat Biotech and the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research.

The variant became the fourth so classified by the WHO. The U.N. agency has also given the same designation to the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in Southeast England, the B.1.35 variant found in South Africa, and the P.1 variant discovered by researchers in Brazil.

(The above story first appeared on Fresh Headline on May 11, 2021 12:49 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website

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