Vaccines found to work against Indian Covid variant

New study suggests strain can be neutralised through inoculation and natural immunity

Vaccines are effective against the Indian Covid-19 variant, a new study suggests.

With India’s virus death toll on Wednesday exceeding 200,000, the findings offer a glimmer of hope for the beleaguered country. They provide solace, too, for the rest of the world over which the threat of vaccine-evading mutations looms.

BioNTech co-founder Ugur Sahin on Wednesday added more reassurance.

"We are still testing ... but the Indian variant has mutations that we have already tested for and which our vaccine works against, so I am confident," he said.

The Indian B.1617 variant is a double mutation, which is why it has caused such alarm.

Its two significant genetic alterations are E484Q and L452R. The former is found in the UK, South African and Brazilian variants, while the latter is found in the Californian strain.

Data on India’s double mutant is limited, despite nearly 18 million infections in the country. This is why the work of India’s National Institute of Virology is significant.

Researchers determined that the E484Q and L452R mutations “confer increased binding capacity to ACE receptors which might help the virus to escape the immune response”. They found that the L4552R mutation in the Indian variant could lead to increased infectivity.

These evasive characteristics are why scientists call them “escape mutants”, but the data suggests vaccines will be effective against both.

Blood serum was collected from 12 people who had experienced symptomatic or asymptomatic infections from the Indian variant and fully recovered. Blood serum was also collected from a range of people who had been vaccinated.

We cannot deduce a reliable trend from the few observations we have but we need to keep a close eye on this

Richard Neher, virologist

All samples were tested to see how well they neutralised the Indian variant and both batches offered high levels of protection. The sera from recovered patients provided 87 per cent immunity and the sera of vaccine recipients 88 per cent.

Covaxin was the drug used in the study but further research is under way in the UK to determine whether a second dose of Pfizer or AstraZeneca works better at neutralising B1.617.

The study is yet to be peer reviewed.

"We cannot deduce a reliable trend from the few observations we have but we need to keep a close eye on this," Richard Neher, a virologist from the University of Basel told German newspaper DW.

He was sanguine about the Indian variant and said it deserves no more attention than any other.

Christian Drosten, head virologist at Berlin's Charite hospital, said there was little cause for alarm.

The next generation of vaccines will need only a “slight update” to contend with these escape mutants, he told DW.

More on India's Covid crisis

India travel bans grow as Europe attempts to keep out Indian variant

India's frontline doctors say surge in cases is ‘tip of the iceberg’

Coronavirus - live updates

Updated: April 28, 2021 06:40 PM

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