SCIENTISTS AT Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), at the forefront of sequencing the SARS-CoV-2 genome, will culture the double mutant strain B.1.617 and other variants of concern and check if antibodies of vaccinated or recovered persons can neutralise the virus. “It will take at least 10 days for the process,” Dr Rakesh Mishra, director of CCMB, told The Indian Express.
Dr Mishra said this was not a population study, so if someone’s antibodies were put in cell culture and the virus was unable to infect it, it would mean the vaccine had worked. This exercise was particularly significant as India opens vaccination to all aged 18 and above from May 1, he said.
According to a report from Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Tuesday, from 20,000 cases reported on January 1, the country has reported almost 10 times the number of cases (over two lakh) daily since April 15.
Dr Mishra said whichever variant was there in any state, the spread depended on lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour. But if there were multiple variants in a location, the one which spread more would become more dominant and, so among existing variants in Maharashtra, the double mutation — E484Q and L452R — was more efficient, he said.
Dr Mishra also said it could not, however, jump suddenly or latch onto any person and the only way it spread was due to lack of Covid-appropriate behaviour. Punjab and Delhi have a fair share of the UK variant while the double mutant is more efficient in Maharashtra and is being seen in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as well.
“We are monitoring how much this variant is spreading and are in the process of collecting 5 per cent samples from each state to see which is doing worse or better in any of these places. It may or may not be dangerous, but if it is spreading fast then that itself is a bad sign; so it needs to be urgently contained as we do not want a dangerous version of the virus,” he said.
Dr Mishra further said scientists were also monitoring hospital deaths due to a particular variant and, hence, it was important to culture these variants. “Testing vaccinated people’s sera and those who have had the infection will help us understand if it prevents the growth of the virus,” he added.
While National Institute of Virology is also part of this effort, Dr Mishra said any lab that could grow the virus should take up the work. He said it will take 10 days or so, but a clear understanding of whether the protection of the vaccine was compromised could be gained from it. So far, however, there was no need to worry and people must get vaccinated, he added.