Speaking at a webinar on ‘Genome sequencing of Sars-Cov-19’ on Friday, Dr Sujeet Kumar Singh, director of the National Centre for Disease Control, said a total of 15,133 samples have been sequenced by the 10 INSACOG laboratories, of which 1,196 had the UK variant, 728 had the B.1.617 or Indian mutation, and 29 had the South African variant.
‘Both vaccines can protect against the Indian variant’
Of the 728 samples with the Indian variant, 427 were found in Maharashtra, 124 in West Bengal, 75 in Delhi and 53 in MP, among others. However, nearly 1,200 samples had the UK mutation, of which 543 were in Punjab, followed by 124 in Delhi. Maharashtra had the UK mutation in 29 samples.
Virologist Dr Shahid Jameel, who is the chairperson of INSACOG, said that the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, has found through a study of vaccinated individuals that vaccines can protect against the Indian variant. “Sera from Covishield and Covaxin are able to protect against B.1.617. Although more tests have to be done, this is some early good news,” he said.
Dr Singh said about 11% of the 15,135 samples sequenced had variants of concern such as the UK variant and SA variant. Within Maharashtra, the B1.6.17 was found in 25% of the samples sequenced from the state. Singh said while the UK variant is the dominant one in Punjab, it is gathering more strength in Delhi. “The UK variant found in 28% samples in the second week of March has increased to 50% by the last week,” he said. In Maharashtra, samples from districts in the Vidarbha region have mainly seen the mutations.
Singh, however, emphasised the surge cannot be linked to mutations. “Disease transmission is not just about mutants or variants but a large number of factors such as pool of susceptible persons, immunity status of persons in the community not following Covid appropriate behaviour and public health measures,” he said.
“Although some mutations are known to have immune escape properties, preventive strategies remain same. Appropriate masking, social distancing and sanitizing remain the key measures to protect against the variants,” said Dr Jameel. Singh said studies were also being done to understand if mutations were impacting the clinical presentation or severity of the disease. “Sentinel sites have been identified such as labs and hospitals, where we collect samples from moderate to severe patients to study if there is any correlation between mutations and disease progression,” he said.
On concerns around RTPCR samples coming negative, Dr Priya Abraham, director of National Institute of Virology said it was still the gold standard test and 98-99% kits can pick up the disease despite mutations. “RT-PCR negative reports could be mainly because sampling could be inappropriate, individuals may be appearing late for sampling and if they come more than 7 days into illness .”