What is COVID Variant of Concern?

The UK scientists recently declared the new COVID-19 strains found in India as the “Variant of Concern”.

What are the criteria to name a virus as “Variant of Concern”?

Various national and international organisations such as CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention), COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium and Canadian COVID Genomics Network use the following criteria:

  • Increase in transmissibility
  • Increase in mortality
  • Increase in morbidity
  • Increased risk of LONG COVID
  • The ability of the mutant to evade diagnostic test
  • Decrease in susceptibility to antiviral drugs
  • Ability to evade natural immunity
  • Ability to infect vaccinated individuals
  • Increased affinity towards a particular demographic group

When one or all these criteria are met, then the variant is named as “Variant of Interest” or “Variant under Investigation”.

After validation or verification, it is named as “Variant of Concern”.

Why is Indian Variant named Variant of Concern?

According to the scientists in the UK, of all the COVID-19 variants, the Indian variant spreads more quickly than its original version. The COVID-19 variant, B.1.617.2, which is also informally called the double mutant variety was first found in India.

UK has reported five hundred cases infected with this variant recently. This grew so rapidly from meagre 202 in a single week.

Current Scenario

The double mutant has spread to more than dozen countries that is forcing them to restrict movements from India.

Concerns

  • India is the biggest vaccine producer in the world. Currently, India is struggling to produce and distribute enough doses.
  • Recently, the inoculation rates in India have fallen sharply. India had set a target of administering four million vaccines per day. However, it is down to 2.5 million per day due to vaccine shortages.
  • Hospitals in the country are running out of bed and medical oxygen.
  • Morgues and Crematorium are not able to handle the increasing number of dead.

Variants of Interest

The COVID-19 variants such as B.1.617.3, B.1.617.2, B.1.617.1, B.1.617, that are circulating in the US were classified as “Variants of Interest”

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