Dr.Vivek Baliga B. is a consultant physician and cardiologist, and director of Baliga Diagnostics in Bangalore. He is a keen advocate of patient education and loves to blog about all things health related. Learn more about him at drvivekbaliga.com
We are all bracing ourselves for the third COVID-19 wave. Little do we know what it is going to bring. The second wave was devastating. Many of us lost loved ones. It’s been a terrible time. The WHO has so far reported 11 variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Now there is news of the delta plus variant. We heard about it a short while ago, but there are concerns that it might hit us hard this time round.
I thought I would briefly discuss the Delta plus variant of the COVID-19 virus today. I will admit right here that by the time I have finished reading all the research, I was just as clueless as I was when I started writing this article. There is just too much conflicting information.
Delta variant of COVID-19 virus
The delta COVID-19 variant was first found in India. It was first identified in October 2020 and was primarily responsible for the second wave in the months of April and May. It was labelled B.1.617.2 by scientists, and since its uprising has surpassed the alpha variant. It is believed that the Delta variant may be 60% more powerful and virulent than the alpha variant (B.1.1.7).
Not surprisingly the delta variant has further mutated, with scientists calling the new virus ‘Delta Plus’. They are calling it B.1.617.2.1, or AY.1.
The mutation is called K417N and is seen on the spike protein – the protein that is responsible for the virus to enter healthy human cells. A similar mutation was seen on the beta variant as well. So far, there have not been many cases of this virus affecting Indians.
The primary problem with the delta plus variant is that it is resistant to treatment with monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are a form of treatment now administered in the early stages of COVID-19 infection, and have been shown to shorten the duration of the illness and hasten recovery.
Resistance could imply a longer course of illness. There have been other concerns raised about the delta plus variant. Firstly, it may transmit from one person to another with total ease. This means more people will get affected a lot faster. Secondly, it binds to the lung cells in a stronger manner to other variants. Finally, once the infection is over, the antibody response generated by the body may be next to nothing.
Will infection with Delta plus be more serious?
Fortunately, so far there have been no indicators that this ‘plus’ variant is going to cause a more serious or life-threatening illness. If you have been vaccinated, there is even a lower chance that you would suffer a serious illness from the delta plus variant.
Do the vaccines work?
The effectiveness of vaccines against the COVID-19 virus has always been a concern amongst the public. I often get asked whether taking both vaccines can really protect the individual against the virus. From the available evidence, a single dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine seems to lower the risk of developing symptoms from the delta variant by around 33%. This is lower than the alpha variant, which is around 50%.
A study published in the journal ‘Nature’ found that a single dose of the Pfizer and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine generated a ‘barely discernible’ antibody response.
This means that just one vaccine will not offer the protection the body needs against the virus. The paper goes on to state that when both injections are given, the protection increases to 95%. Interestingly, they also report that those people who have developed natural antibodies through infection do not produce antibodies that can effectively fight the delta variant.
The COVISHIELD vaccine offers 70% protection after the first dose, increasing to 91% after the second dose given 8 to 12 weeks apart, according to news reports.
However, having gone through some of the research, the numbers are very variable. Some papers state that the protection offered even after 2 doses of the vaccine is only about 60-80%.
The ICMR has stated that COVAXIN vaccine is effective against the Delta plus variant. Those who have been affected by COVID and have then gone on the have one or two vaccine shots seem to have a higher protection against the delta variant versus those who just had the vaccine, research has shown.
Despite vaccination and its benefits, I strongly urge people to observe the same precautions that have been reiterated time and again. Social distancing should remain a priority, and always, always wear your mask when venturing out into a public place.
COVID is here for a lot longer than we anticipated. Taking the right precautions is of utmost importance.
The decline in cases will be slow, and I am sure our patience will pay off and life will eventually return to total normalcy.
This article originally appeared in the TeacherTribe Magazine October 2021 edition.