‘Double mutant’ Covid-19 variant alert in India: Experts warn Covishield vaccine ‘no better than water’ against some strains

India is scrambling to counter a new hybrid of coronavirus detected in the country, as medical professionals warn that the new strain could be resilient against the domestically produced Covishield vaccine.

Classified as ‘B.1.617’, the “new double mutant strain” is suspected of fueling a rise in new cases of the disease in India. Dubbed the ‘India’ variant, the strain has reportedly been detected in at least eight countries worldwide.

According to Dr. Shiv Kumar Sarin, a government adviser and head of the Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences (ILBS) in New Delhi, the variant can be described as a hybrid of the South African, UK, and Brazilian strains of the virus. 

Containing the mutation could pose difficulties due to the fact that vaccines have been shown to have varying efficacy against different Covid-19 variants. India’s Covaxin, as well as Covishield, a domestically produced version of AstraZeneca’s jab, provide protection against the UK variant. But results have not been promising when Covishield was tested on the South African strain. 

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“The Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccine, when it was tried in the South African variant, was no better than water,” Sarin told India Today. He warned that India could see a “surge” in cases that can be tied to the South African strain, in which case “one vaccine may not work.”

Earlier this month, the Serum Institute of India, which manufactures Covishield, fully refunded the cost of 500,000 doses of the vaccine after South Africa halted plans to deploy the drug. The South African government decided against administering the jab after a trial found that it was ineffective at protecting against the local Covid-19 strain. However, one million doses of the drug had already been delivered to South Africa before the country suspended its use. 

Sadhus, or Hindu holy men take a holy dip in the Ganges river during Shahi Snan at “Kumbh Mela”, or the Pitcher Festival, amidst the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Haridwar, India, April 14, 2021.


©  REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

India reported more than 200,000 new cases and more than 1,000 Covid-linked deaths over a 24-hour period on Thursday, according to health ministry data. Some parts of the country have reimposed lockdown measures in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.

Indian officials have raised alarm over a weeks-long Hindu festival in Haridwar, describing it as a “super-spreader” event. Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to flock to the city, causing concern that the massive gathering could be fueling the spike in new cases.

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