As COVID mutations continue, CCMB chief sounds caution

CCMB Director Vinay Nandicoori.

CCMB Director Vinay Nandicoori. | Photo Credit: PTI

Double-dose vaccination, booster shot, and exposure to previous COVID-19 infection have so far made the Omicron cases less severe in terms of low hospitalisation rates and deaths, says CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology director Vinay Nandicoori.

This is in contrast to the Delta wave in the summer of 2021 when vaccination rate was just 2%, and the high viral load led to unprecedented hospitalisation figures and fatalities, overwhelming the healthcare systems.

“We are in a much better place when compared to a year ago, but let there be no doubt that if Omicron was the first variant, it could have caused as much havoc as seen in Hong Kong among the unvaccinated and those with comorbidities,” he points out, in an exclusive interaction.

“We have to remind ourselves that the Omicron variant is still a potent virus, has scope to improve, and if it gets a combination of the right conditions, things could get worse for persons getting infected. But, the hope is that with more than 90% exposure to SARS-CoV-2 and 1.90 crore vaccination doses, we are well protected,” says Mr. Nandicoori.

‘No guarantee’

The COVID virus will keep evolving with mutations, and there can be “no guarantee” of whether or not one will get infected.

But what one has to watch out for is how severe the infection is and if the rate of hospitalisation and mortality is rising, he explains.

South Africa’s surge in infections is due to the BA.4 and BA.5 variants after the initial spike due to the BA.1 variant. In India, the latest genome sequencing has shown that it is the BA.2 variant and its offshoots that are causing the infections.

“It would be foolhardy to not expect any new variant from emerging. What we have to watch out for, again, is the number of hospitalisations and deaths with the sequencing of samples from patients,” he says.

A probable new wave could rear its head if those infected by Omicron or those vaccinated do not get immunity protection by the emerging variants, as studies have shown — those infected by BA.1 got infected by BA.4 and BA.5. This is where the booster dose becomes relevant. When the vaccine is available, one should not delay taking it, advises the CCMB director.

“As the name suggests, a booster dose boosts your body’s memory cells and strengthens the primary defences. Three vaccine doses have better protection against infection. While it is natural to have lower antibodies a few months after vaccination or infection, our B-cell and T-cell immunity mechanisms offer protection as those infected survive with discomfort, fever, and cold without requiring hospitalisation,” he concludes.

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Printable version | May 15, 2022 11:34:29 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/as-covid-mutations-continue-ccmb-chief-sounds-caution/article65416501.ece