Genomic variations and structural changes have been reported from other countries in the new variant of coronavirus but whether these alterations would impart increased transmissibility or make vaccines ineffective is under examination, senior ICMR scientist Samiran Panda said Saturday. “Vaccines which have been directed towards spike protein of the virus may find difficulty in mounting adequate immunity against the mutated version because of the structural changes that have been reported in the viral genome, according to WHO. “However, we have to wait and watch in order to figure out how the emergence of this new mutant evolve and play out at the population level," said Panda, the head of Epidemiology and Communicable Diseases Division, Indian Council of Medical Research.
He said that vaccines used in India — Covaxin and Covishield — have been reported to work against previously identified mutants from within India and other countries. “Whether they would be effective against newly reported mutant B.1.1.529 needs to be seen over a period of time," he said. A World Health Organisation panel has named the new COVID-19 strain ‘Omicron’ and classified it as a highly transmissible variant of concern, the category that also includes the delta variant. “Genomic variations and structural changes have been reported from other countries in the new emerging variant of coronavirus but whether these changes would impart increased transmissibility or make vaccines ineffective is under examination," he said. Panda said mRNA vaccines are directed towards viral spike protein and host cell receptor interaction and thus may need to be tweaked as appropriate around the changes observed in the virus.
Panda, meanwhile, also stressed on strengthening of the ongoing vaccination drive as well as strict adherence to Covid-appropriate behaviour where community engagement is the key intervention approach. Ramping up genomic surveillance in the country and for incoming international travelers will also help in forming programmatic intervention measures, he underlined.