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Covaxin could work against UK strain of Covid-19 — what it means for India

India has seen a rising number of cases of the UK strain, with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stating on January 23 that at least 150 people have tested positive for this mutant strain.

Written by Prabha Raghavan , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 28, 2021 7:23:45 am
covid vaccine, covid-19, covid vaccine drive, coronavirus vaccine, covid 19 vaccine in india, coronavirus vaccine in india, india covid 19 vaccine, covid vaccine latest news, covid 19 vaccine expert, india covid vaccineCovaxin vaccination at a district hospital in Pune on January 16, 2021 (Express Photo: Arul Horizon)

Bharat Biotech Wednesday released potentially promising information related to its Covid-19 vaccine’s ability to protect people against a specific mutation of the virus. The Indian Express takes a look at the findings and what this could mean for India’s efforts in containing the spread of the virus.

What are the findings?

Bharat Biotech conducted a test of its vaccine, Covaxin, against the UK strain of the virus. This “plaque reduction neutralization” test (PRNT50) involved collecting the serum (protein-rich liquid separated from blood after it is clotted) of 26 people who received the vaccine. The sera was then tested against the UK variant of the virus as well as a heterologous strain of the virus that Covaxin was previously tested against.

“Our study evidently highlighted comparable neutralization activity of vaccinated individuals sera against variant as well as heterologous SARS-CoV-2 strains. Importantly, sera from the vaccine recipients could neutralise the UK-variant strains discounting the uncertainty around potential escape,” stated the pre-print findings.

So, what does this mean?

According to the findings released, Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin has shown the potential to protect those vaccinated against the mutant strain of the virus that has come from the United Kingdom.

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Why is this important?

India has seen a rising number of cases of the UK strain, with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare stating on January 23 that at least 150 people have tested positive for this mutant strain. The UK strain is not only more concerning because it has been found to spread more quickly than the more common strain of the virus, but there has been “some evidence” to suggest that this variant was associated with a “higher degree of mortality”, making it more deadly, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

The UK strain was one of the main reasons that Bharat Biotech received restricted emergency approval in India despite Covaxin not having completed enough of its large-scale human trials to show even interim information on its efficacy (ability to bring down symptomatic Covid-19 cases in those vaccinated).

However, Bharat Biotech chairperson and managing director Dr Krishna Ella had revealed that the hypothesis that Covaxin could protect against this mutation had not been proven at the time of its approval, making these pre-print findings the first set of evidence of the vaccine’s ability to work against this mutant strain.

What are the problems?

This is a pre-print and the findings have not been peer reviewed yet. The data collected from 26 people looks promising, but there is no clarity on the vaccine’s efficacy yet, as it is being administered to priority groups in “clinical trial” mode.

More visibility is expected to emerge later this year, when the company will have enough information to tell us how effective its vaccine is in preventing those inoculated from at least showing unmanageable symptoms even if they do get infected.

In addition to this, the pre-print findings show the vaccine’s ability to protect against the UK strain only. At the same time, there are various other mutant strains of the virus that pose a threat to vaccination programmes around the world, with a variant from South Africa being of equal concern.

This is because the strain, just as transmissible as the UK strain, seems to affect younger people more than the other Covid-19 strains that have been observed previously.

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