Cautioning that a few clusters of COVID-19 infection have been reported from the country, the Health Ministry on Friday said some of the mutations reported on the spike gene of new COVID-19 variant Omicron may decrease the efficacy of existing vaccines.
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The Ministry added that vaccine protection is by antibodies as well as cellular immunity, which is expected to be relatively better preserved.
“Hence, vaccines are expected to still offer protection against severe disease and vaccination with the available vaccines is crucial. If eligible, but not vaccinated, one should get vaccinated,” noted the Ministry, while calling for extra vigilance in enforcing public health measures to contain the spread of the Omicron variant .
It said that the scale and magnitude of rise in cases and, most importantly, the severity of disease that will be caused is still not clear.
The Ministry added that given the fast pace of vaccination in India and high exposure to Delta variant as evidenced by high seropositivity, the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low.
“However, scientific evidence is still evolving,” it added.
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The Ministry has also written to States directing them to ensure contact tracing of all positive persons.
“This will remain the key to stopping the spread. All contacts of a positive person must be traced, quarantined and tested within 72 hours. Samples of all those who test positive must be sent for Whole Genome Sequencing expeditiously, and only to the laboratories tagged to the State/UT in the INSACOG network. Kindly also put in place a system to ensure that sample quality is good and transportation to INSACOG labs is quick. As already intimated, ideally no samples should be sent to any lab not part of the INSACOG network,” said Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan in his letter.
He added that active surveillance and testing were key in the detection of clusters or hotspots.
“Keep actively following up the number of cases, rate of testing and positivity district wise in all districts. Any uptick in cases and positivity must be immediately taken cognizance of and addressed through public health measures such as contact tracing, quarantining of contacts, isolation of those found positive and ensuring proper containment,” he noted.
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Meanwhile, stating that variants were a normal part of evolution and as long as the virus was able to infect, replicate and transmit, it would continue to evolve, the Ministry in its note said that not all variants were dangerous and most often than not, people would not notice them. Only when they are more infectious, or can reinfect people etc they gain prominence. The most important step to avoid generation of variants is to reduce the number of infections, it said.
“The Indian Government is monitoring the situation closely and is issuing suitable guidelines from time to time. Meanwhile, the scientific and medical community is geared for developing and deploying diagnostics, carrying out genomic surveillance, generating evidence about viral and epidemiologic characteristics and development of therapeutics,” the Ministry added.