Chief scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Soumya Swaminathan, on Thursday said some countries may see “another wave of infections" with the XBB subvariant of Omicron, a variant of COVID-19 virus.
Talking to reporters on the side lines of the annual general meeting of the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network (DCVMN) here, she clarified that as of now, there was no data from any country to suggest that these new variants are clinically more severe.
“There are over 300 subvariants of Omicron. I think the one that is concerning right now is XBB, which is a recombinant virus. We had seen some recombinant viruses earlier. It is very immune-evasive, which means it can overcome the antibodies. So slightly that we may see another wave of infections in some countries because of XBB," she said.
Swaminathan said they are also tracking derivatives of BA.5 and BA.1, which are also more transmissible and immune-evasive. As the virus evolves, it is going to evolve more and more transmissible, she said. “As of now, there is no data from any country to suggest these new subvariants are more clinically severe," she clarified. Suggesting the measures that need to be taken, Dr Swaminathan said monitoring and tracking are the key steps.
“We need to continue to monitor and track. We have seen that testing has gone down across countries, the genomic surveillance has also gone down over the last few months. We need to maintain at least a strategic sampling of genomic surveillance so that we can keep tracking the variants as we have been doing and studying," she said.
According to her, the Director General of the WHO has said that COVID-19 continues to be a public health emergency of international concern. She added that 8,000 to 9,000 deaths are being reported every week worldwide due to the infection. “So we have not said that the pandemic is over, which means that all precautions and tools continued to be used. Good thing is that we have now many tools and the most important thing is vaccines," Dr Swaminathan said.
On the vaccine front, Chief Executive Officer of Serum Institute of India (SII), Adar Poonawalla, on Thursday said the vaccine manufacturer stopped the production of Covishield vaccine starting December 2021, and of the total stock available at that time, around 100 million doses had already got expired.
Speaking to reporters on the side lines of the DCVMN, he said booster vaccines have no demand as there is general lethargy among people and also because they are fed up with the pandemic. “Since December 2021, we stopped the production (of Covishield). We had a stock of a few hundred million doses at that time and of that, 100 million doses have already expired," said Poonawalla when asked about the update on the Covishield vaccine.
He said the SII’s vaccines are allowed to be mixed. “Now, Covovax should be allowed in two weeks. So I think they will and should probably have the policy to mix boosters. If WHO allowed it, then maybe the Indian regulator will and should allow it. But again, boosters have no demand at the moment. There is lethargy generally. People are fed up of COVID, vaccines. To be honest, I am also fed up with it. We all are," he said.
(With PTI inputs)