New Delhi: With reports of vaccinated people testing Covid positive, doctors and health experts are concerned about the coronavirus situation in the country. On Wednesday, the Union Health Ministry said that the government will collect data on those testing Covid-19 positive even after getting vaccinated. Several experts have pointed out that the mutant virus is more infectious than the earlier strain.

A.M. Deshmukh, president, Microbiologist Society, India told The Sunday Guardian: “The Microbiologists’ Society of India calls the speeding strain of the virus as Maharashtra Strain that has mutated in the state and within the next two months, it will spread in neighbouring states as well. Vaccination is the only means of controlling deaths due to Covid-19. It’s important to expedite the vaccination; that is the only solution to control the pandemic. With increasing demands for vaccine, it’s important for India to pace up the trial periods of other vaccines like Sputnik V in which scientists have made use of human adenoviruses as vectors because it is safe. These viruses, which cause the common cold, are not novel and have been around for thousands of years. The new strain of virus remained subsided for a brief period. But the mutant virus is more infectious. People with co-morbidities have higher chances of getting infected and this is causing an increase in the death rate. It is necessary to vaccinate the entire population above 45  years of age and those having co-morbidity and are below this age. Only those with co-morbidity in 25-45 years should be administered the vaccine. Others have natural immunity and even after getting corona infection, will not die due to corona if treatment is available in time.”

Dr Harish Chafle, Senior Consultant-Pulmonology and Critical Care, at Global Hospitals, Mumbai, told The Sunday Guardian: “The change in virus strain to a more infectious form of the virus is another reason for the sudden rise in cases. Maybe cases will rise for some more days and then will start coming down again. I don’t think the virulence rate has changed much. But as more and more people are getting affected now, time will tell us more about the virulence rate.”

According to reports, the “double mutant” virus B.1.617 which is common in India has a couple of defining mutations, E484Q and L425R, that enable them to become more infectious as well as evade antibodies. This was flagged by scientists last month. The mutations E484Q and L452R are linked to increased infectivity. It’s been linked to 20% of the cases in Maharashtra and there are also some cases in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Meanwhile, several international studies are pointing out that the fresh variants are reducing the efficacy of the vaccines particularly those by Pfizer, Moderna, and Novavax—to certain variants. India has yet not conducted studies on how vaccine efficacy is influenced by variants, except for limited laboratory trials.

Health experts are also emphasizing that people who have taken the first dose of vaccine need to be more cautious as being vaccinated doesn’t mean one can roam free as the new strain of virus is said to be very strong. When vaccines came, it was said they were 70-90% effective and precautionary measures needed to be taken, Deshmukh added.

“There is no correlation between vaccinations and more people getting affected. Maybe people are coming to the hospital and getting exposed to the virus. It is a possibility but I don’t think vaccination is causing an increase in the number of cases. Another possibility is people who have got vaccinated are not taking appropriate precautions post-vaccination thinking that they are now immune to Covid-19. India will develop herd immunity once enough people get vaccinated. But for that people should come forth and get vaccinated. Facing a double mutant strain is definitely a concern as this is again a new one for us. The vaccine efficacy against this variant is not sure and this is highly infectious as well. Time to will tell us whether this is matter of concern or not. Whatever may be the strain, new or old, the way to control it doesn’t change at all. Everyone should follow three golden principles of hand hygiene, social distancing, and wearing masks at all times,” Dr Chafle said.

“Places around the world with higher vaccination coverage such as the United Kingdom and Israel are witnessing a steady decrease in cases. Most of the currently approved vaccines around the world have been found to evoke an immune response to some extent against multiple variants. To ensure that mutant strains do not develop vaccine resistance, we have to ensure wider and faster vaccine coverage across the world. Vaccine shortage in India must be addressed as soon as possible. India should fast-track approval of Covid-19 vaccines such as Sputnik V which is being used under license in close to 60 countries to fill the vaccine supply gap in India,” Deshmukh said.

Dr Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant, Internal Medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals, New Delhi, told The Sunday Guardian: “The virus is more infectious, but time would tell if it is deadly or not. We should be able to achieve herd immunity as a consequence of natural infection and vaccine-induced immunity. Fresh variants/mutants will always be a challenge for vaccine makers, but this has been well known for several years and we should be successful in modifying the vaccines which will cover variants/mutants strains as well. Till now it is not clear whether vaccinated people are getting infected because of variant strain only, as it is well known that post-vaccination people can develop infections from the same strain, but much less severe. The only way to control them is practicing Covid appropriate behaviour and rapid vaccination to cover as many people as possible.”