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Delta Variant and Other Strains of Covid-19—What You Need To Know

The worrisome Covid-19 Delta variant is fast spreading worldwide. Can the vaccine fight it? And what about the other virus mutations? Read on to find out.

By D Tejaswi
14 Jul 2021

When World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned about the fast spreading Delta variant, the world’s attention quickly turned onto this particular variant. Mr. Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on July 2, “The world is in a very dangerous period of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by more transmissible variants like Delta”. He added that the delta variant is quickly becoming the dominant strain in many countries such as the UK, US, Indonesia, Singapore, Australia and Russia. The Covid-19 Delta variant is spreading rapidly among unvaccinated populations.


Know about delta and other variants in detail below.
SIG (SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group) classifies the variants into three major categories—variant of interest (VOI), variant of concern (VOC) and variant of high consequence (VOHC). The list below tells you about each one of them.



What is variant of concern (VOC)?

According to CDC (Centers for Disease Control And Prevention), “VOC are the variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (e.g., increased hospitalisations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralisation by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.”
Alpha, Beta, Delta, Gamma are classified under variants of concern.



Where was it first identified?India


Where is it?This variant is spreading fast and is currently detected in more than 100 countries in the world.


How concerned should I be about the Delta variant?The delta variant is twice as transmissible as the original strain of coronavirus.


Do vaccines protect against the Delta variant? The Union Health Ministry of India says that both Covaxin and Covishield are effective against the Delta variant.




Where was it first identified?Kent, United Kingdom in September 2020
Where is it? According to Global Virus Network, the Alpha variant has spread in at least 114 countries. It is not yet reported in India.

How concerned should I be about the Alpha variant?CDC says that the strain is 50 percent more transmissible than the ancestral version of Covid-19 virus.

Do vaccines protect against the Alpha variant? ICMR Director General Balram Bhargava says, “reduction of neutralisation capabilities of vaccine with different variants show that Covaxin does not change with the Alpha variant at all. Covishield reduces slightly with Alpha, by 2.5 times.”



Where was it first identified?South Africa in May 2020

Where is it? Detected in 48 countries as per Global Virus Network

How concerned should I be about the Beta variant?This variant may lead to slightly more severe disease and has a higher risk of death than the original Covid-19 strain.

Do vaccines protect against the Beta variant? Yes, both Covishield and Covaxin are effective, as per the Central Ministry of India.



Where was it first identified?Japan/Brazil

Where is it? Spread in about 74 countries worldwide.

How concerned should I be about the Gamma variant? Gamma infections have significantly higher viral load than the other variants. According to the CDC, “Gamma shows less susceptibility to several monoclonal antibody treatments.”

Do vaccines protect against the Gamma variant?Director General of Indian Council for Medical Research (DG-ICMR), Dr Balram Bhargava says in a press release that COVID-19 vaccines, Covishield and Covaxin work against the Gamma variant of SARS-CoV-2.

What is variant of interest (VOI)?

These are the variants with genetic changes that are known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape.

These cause significant community transmission in multiple countries—increasing the number of cases over time.

Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda variants of Covid-19 fall under this category.



Where was it first identified: United Kingdom/Nigeria, December 2020

Where is it?As of July 13, Eta has been reported in 69 countries worldwide, according to GISAID (Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data).

How concerned should I be about the Eta variant? Mutations in this variant makes it difficult for the traditional treatments such as antibody treatments, convalescent plasma treatment to work effectively.

Do vaccines protect against the Eta variant ?While information on other vaccines is not available, Moderna says that its vaccine produces neutralising antibodies that targets the Eta variant, however the effect is slightly less robust “relative to those against ancestral strain”.



Where was it first identified? United States (New York), November 2020

Where is it? The Iota variant has been detected in at least 43 countries.

How concerned should I be about the Iota variant? A introductory study done on May 16th by CDC suggests that Iota variant does not cause more severe Covid-19. It also says that this variant isn’t linked to an increased risk of infection after a person is vaccinated.

Do vaccines protect against the Iota variant ?There is not enough research about the effectiveness of vaccines available in India—to counter Iota. However, in the US, mRNA vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer are protective against Iota.



Where was it first identified?India, December 2020

Where is it?Detected in at least 52 countries. As per the current data, Kappa virus cases in India stands at 3628 until the end of June. Rajasthan, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh are the major states in India affected by this variant.

How concerned should I be about the Kappa variant? In comparison to the original strain of the virus, this strain is likely more transmissible and significantly less responsive to mRNA vaccines.

Do vaccines protect against the Kappa variant? Pfizer-BioNTech and the AstraZeneca (branded Covishield in India) vaccines remain broadly effective against the Kappa variant.


Where was it first identified? Detected in Peru in August 2020

Where is it? Spread in 29 countries, with high levels in South American countries. India has not yet reported a case.

How concerned should I be about the Lambda variant? Have the potential to increase transmissibility of the virus.

Do vaccines protect against the Lambda variant? According to a report by Public Health England, researchers found that mRNA vaccines are effective against the Lambda variant. But more studies will be needed to understand the efficacy of Covishield and Covaxin on the Lambda variant.


What is Variant of High Consequence (VOHC)?
A variant of high consequence has clear evidence that prevention measures or medical countermeasures (MCMs) have significantly reduced effectiveness relative to previously circulating variants.

According to CDC, Currently, there are no SARS-CoV-2 variants that rise to the level of high consequence.

(The inputs have been collated with the help of Dr Suneetha Narreddy, MD; ABIM, Infectious Disease Specialist, Apollo Hospitals, Hyderabad.)




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