Viruses undergo habitual mutation and coronavirus is no exception. Rapid genetic change in SARS-CoV-2 is reflected in the emergence of numerous virus variants — over 200 have been detected across the globe. A double mutant variant has emerged in India, a super infectious strain. This bahrupiya is now taking many lives.
The variant is dangerous because it can escape from the immune system and attack even the youth and children. Experts have cautioned that this virus has more energy, greater virulence, and is camouflaged; it attacks the lungs directly, sparing the nose and throat, while the test shows negative! This strain was first observed in Maharashtra, which is recording an alarmingly high spike of the viral infection.
Genome sequencing has confirmed that of the cases coming out positive, there has been a sharp rise in the E484Q and L452R mutations. Such mutations confer immune escape and increased infectivity. Recent reports have found evidence that dogs and cats can become infected by the new variants that transmit more readily between people and pets. It may be present in the air!
Making a vaccine against these kinds of viruses is more challenging. Future variants that may cause a more severe illness in children are likely to emerge. That is why we may need a new vaccine for every variant, and every year, since antibodies do not last long. Can we afford that luxury? Reports of vaccine shortages are already surfacing.
A jab does not promise to save you from getting infected. It is a medical tool that is believed to prevent a serious course to the disease and, thus, pre-empt deaths. Reports from the UK and several other countries have confirmed a fall in the infection as well as fatality rates. Most scientists agree that ‘the risk-and-benefit balance’ is very much in favour of the vaccine.
The vaccine has been found to be 92 per cent effective at protecting people from severe Covid and death after two shots. The government has embarked on a mass vaccination drive to banish the virus. Will it work?
Some reports are disquieting. While nobody knows for sure how much and how long the vaccine will protect, reports of many adverse events, positive reports after full vaccination and a few deaths after vaccination have unnerved the community. Over 100 doctors in AIIMS and other hospitals are infected. Delhi’s Sir Ganga Ram Hospital’s 37 doctors have tested positive for Covid despite vaccination. Similarly, KG Medical College, Lucknow, has reported 39 coronavirus cases of faculty members even after full vaccination. Is it a cause-and-effect relationship?
Several reports of clot formation after the jab and subsequent suspension of the vaccination drive in many European countries are disquieting. Denmark was the first to announce its suspension, “following reports of serious cases of blood clots” among people who had received the vaccine.
An Indian official stated, “We are looking at the side effects of blood clots that have been seen in people who received Covishield and Covaxin.” A presentation made to the National AEFI (Adverse Event Following Immunisation) Committee on March 31 recorded that there had been 180 deaths and over 700 serious adverse events till that time and three-fourths of the deaths had happened within three days of the shot. It would be prudent to reveal the truth after a thorough and transparent investigation to inspire confidence.
Paradoxically, the virus graph started rising after the vaccination drive started in January. Why? Nobody is sure about the reasons. The fact that immune-escape mutants do not get neutralised by available vaccines has put a question mark over the mass vaccination drive, as the pandemic has exploded with over 1.31 lakh cases and about 800 deaths on April 9. Experts are wondering whether it's possible to get people shed hesitancy if a new cocktail of corona vaccines is created. Unless there is sufficient Indian data to prove the safety and efficacy of the jab, skepticism is likely to persist.
Some innovations are in the offing. Israel-based Oramed and India’s Premas Biotech are jointly working on a Covid-19 vaccine that can be taken orally, like a pill. Bengaluru-based Organisation De Scalene has received clearance from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Union to license and manufacture Scalene Hypercharge Corona Canon (Shycocan), a device that has the ability to neutralise 99.9 per cent of the coronaviruses that might be floating in the air, in closed spaces. It can be used to prevent infection and is not a medicine that can cure infected people or an alternative to a vaccine.
While anti-virals and other medicines have failed to play a specific role in the treatment, a limited role has been attributed to the cocktail of two drugs — casirivimab and imdevimab — which has the potential of reducing hospitalisation; it was successfully tried on Donald Trump. These medicines are not available in India. But there is need for caution — some fraudsters may prey on people's fears by pretending to have access to the wonder drug and offer it for sale at high prices.
Researchers have found an association between certain lifestyle factors and a person's risk of getting infected. Obese, diabetic, hypertensive and heart patients are at a greater risk of infection and experiencing hospitalisation. They should get a jab after clearance from their physician. Those who tested negative were more likely to have high levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Measures to increase the HDL levels like regular exercise and good sleep, adequate hydration and sun exposure and diet rich in monounsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil and avocados might be helpful.
Heart patients and the ones who have had surgery in the past must safeguard against exposure to an infected person or those suffering from fever. The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test is suggested when such exposure occurs. If the test shows cycle threshold (CT) value of 24 or less, then it is significant. Covid-appropriate behaviour, coupled with a healthy lifestyle, can help you save yourself.
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