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COVID-19 vaccines effective against Delta variant: INSACOG co-chair

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In an interview, INSACOG co-chair Dr N. K. Arora has said that COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the Delta variant. The Delta variant is a more transmissible strain of the novel coronavirus which emerged in India in October of last year. 

INSACOG refers to the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG). It comprises 28 laboratories under the ambit of the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the ICMR, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and was established by the Government last year for the purposes of genome sequencing during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

In the interview, Arora affirmed that “current vaccines are effective against [the] Delta variant as per the studies undertaken by ICMR [Indian Council of Medical Research] on the issue.” This comes amidst concerns surrounding the emergence of new variants and the extent to which the COVID-19 vaccines currently in use are effective in tackling them. 

“The new mutations/variants of concern are cultured and scientific studies are undertaken to see the impact on infectiousness, virulence, vaccine efficacy and immune escape properties,” the Government said on Monday.

However, Arora did state that “there is a need to keep a strict vigil on the emergence of variants of concern and outbreaks so that they can be contained before they spread to a larger region.” This provided the impetus for the expansion of INSACOG from a consortium of ten laboratories at the time of its foundation in December of last year to 28 at present, with the recent addition of eighteen laboratories. 

“The idea is to have a strong network of laboratories to do genomic surveillance of the SARS-CoV-2 and correlate whole genomics sequencing (WGS) data with clinical and epidemiological data to see whether or not a variant is more transmissible, causes more severe disease, escaping immunity or causing breakthrough infections, affecting vaccine efficacy, and diagnosed by current diagnostic tests,” he said.

According to Arora, the Delta variant is forty to sixty percent more transmissible than the Alpha variant. The Delta variant has made landfall in more than eighty countries worldwide, he added. 

India is also seeing the emergence of the Delta plus variant, which the Union Health Ministry deemed a variant of concern in June – a decision some experts considered premature. State officials said the Delta plus variant appeared to be more transmissible than the original Delta variant. “It is difficult to say that the Delta Plus variant is more severe,” Arora said. 

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