Since the first time coronavirus arrived, now there are many versions of this wicked virus mutated and spread in our environment in the form of different variants in the different countries.
As per the experts, the variant “Delta” which rapidly infected people in India is more transmissible than even the “Kent” or Alpha variant that has also dominant in the UK.
What we know about new variants of COVID-19?
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear. Other times, new variants persist. Multiple variants of the virus that causes COVID-19 have been documented in the United States and globally during this pandemic.
Viruses constantly change and become more diverse. Scientists monitor these changes, including changes to the spikes on the surface of the virus. By carefully studying viruses, scientists can learn how changes to the virus might affect how it spreads and how sick people will get from it.
If you think about a virus like a tree growing and branching out; each branch on the tree is slightly different than the others. By comparing the branches, scientists can label them according to the differences. These small differences, or variants, have been studied and identified since the beginning of the pandemic.
Some variations allow the virus to spread more easily or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines. Those variants must be monitored more carefully.
How Many Variants of the Coronavirus are there now?
Though, there are thousands of different variants of COVID-19 spread and infecting people differently across the world.
In point of fact, viruses mutate all the time and most changes are inconsequential. Some even harm the virus. But others can make the disease more infectious or threatening – and these mutations tend to dominate.
Those with the most potentially concerning changes are called “variants of concern” and kept under the closest watch by health officials, and include:
- The India or Delta variant (B.1.617.2) of which more than 12,000 cases have been seen in across the UK. And as per the WHO Indian Covid variant found in at least 17 countries.
- The UK, Kent or Alpha variant (also known as B.1.1.7) is prevalent in Britain – with more than 200,000 cases identified – and has spread to more than 50 countries and appears to be mutating again
- The South Africa or Beta variant (B.1.351) has been identified in at least 20 other countries, including the UK
- The Brazil or Gamma variant (P.1) has spread to more than 10 other countries, including the UK
How Contagious is the new Variant of Coronavirus?
Till now there is no evidence that any of them cause much more serious illness for the vast majority of people.
As with the original version, the risk remains highest for people who are elderly or have significant underlying health conditions.
But a virus being more infectious and equally dangerous will in itself lead to more deaths in an unvaccinated population.
The advice to avoid infection remains the same for all strains: wash your hands, keep your distance, wear a face covering and be vigilant about ventilation.
How New Variant of Coronavirus Spread?
The variants experts concerned about have all undergone changes to their spike protein – the part of the virus which attaches to human cells.
The Delta variant has some potentially important ones (such as L452R) that might make it spread more easily.
There is no evidence to indicate it causes more severe disease or might make current vaccines less effective, say UK officials.
The World Health Organization, meanwhile, has classified another, similar variant that is also circulating in India – called B.1.617 – as a variant of concern.
One mutation, called N501Y, shared by the Alpha, Gamma and Beta variant seems to make the virus better at infecting cells and spreading.
The Beta and Gamma variants also have a key mutation, called E484K, that may help the virus evade antibodies, key parts of the immune system which help bodies fight off infection.
Experts recently found a small number of cases of the Alpha variant that have this change too.
About New Variant of COVID-19: Infographic
Is Vaccine effective against new variant of COVID-19?
Current vaccines were designed for earlier versions of coronavirus, but scientists believe they should work, albeit potentially less well.
Lab research suggests antibodies that can fight the infection – triggered by vaccination or past infection – may be somewhat less effective against Delta.
Two doses of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccine still protect people from getting very ill, however.
Real life data suggest the Pfizer vaccine can protect against the new variants, although slightly less effectively.
Data from the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine team suggests it protects just as well against the Alpha variant. It offers less protection against the Beta variant – but should still protect against severe illness.
One recent study suggests the Gamma variant may resist antibodies in people who’ve recovered from Covid before.
Some early results suggest the Moderna vaccine is effective against the Beta variant, although the immune response triggered may be weaker and shorter-lived.
While on the other hand, as per the studies, the Indian made vaccines Covaxin, Covishield still potent against B.1.617 strain but produces fewer antibodies.
What Scientistss are doing to learn more?
Scientists are studying these variants to learn more about them and to quickly detect new variants. They want to understand whether the current and new variants.
- Spread more easily from person-to-person.
- Cause milder or more severe disease in people.
- Are detected by currently available viral tests.
- Respond to medicines currently being used to treat COVID-19.
- Change the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines.
Do current vaccines to be modified for new variants?
Experts are confident existing vaccines can be redesigned to better tackle emerging mutations.
The UK government has a deal with biopharmaceutical company CureVac to develop vaccines against future variants, and has pre-ordered 50 million doses.
Depending on how variants continue to develop, these could potentially be used to offer a booster vaccine to older or clinically vulnerable people later in the year.