India has actually changed

Indian mutationHow dangerous is B.1.617?

Hundreds of thousands of new corona infections are reported within a day in India. The health system in parts of the country is overloaded: There are not enough hospital beds and oxygen for people suffering from Covid-19. The new variant B.1.617, which is also known as the "double mutant", has spread throughout the country. We answer the most important questions:

How dangerous is the mutation?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has now classified the coronavirus variant as "worrying". There are indications that B.1.617 is more contagious and possibly also less sensitive to antibodies, according to the WHO. However, it is still too early to determine whether B.1.617 actually shows a higher resistance to vaccines. Previously, preliminary study results had indicated that the new variant is spreading faster than other Corona variants circulating in India. For the WHO, however, the mutant has so far only been considered "of interest".

When is a variant "worrying"?

According to the WHO, this applies if it is known that it spreads more easily, causes more serious illnesses, evades the reaction of the immune system, changes the clinical appearance or reduces the effectiveness of known instruments.

Is the virus mutant also responsible for the difficult situation in India?

There is no clear answer to this so far. In addition to the virus mutant and the state of the health system, religious, political and sporting mass events are also held responsible for the massive increase in numbers. In the hope that the worst of the Corona crisis would be over, the Indian authorities relaxed many requirements at the beginning of the year and allowed events from large wedding celebrations to cricket games to religious gatherings again. Millions of pilgrims huddled together at the Kumbh Mela, one of the largest religious celebrations in the world. Most of them did not wear a mask. There were also election campaign events in many Indian states, including one by Prime Minister Modi with hundreds of thousands of participants.

Correspondents from foreign media such as the New York Times or the Guardian also report the carelessness they would have experienced in India before the current corona wave. After a hard lockdown in the first wave, there was a feeling in the country that the pandemic was over. The willingness to vaccinate was low, many people no longer followed distance rules in everyday life and did not wear masks.

Where does the term "double" mutation come from?

The variant that emerged in India shows two changes to a surface protein, which explains the term. These mutations are already known from other variants when viewed individually. Here, however, they appear together, "doubled" so to speak. The head of virology at the Berlin Charité, Christian Drosten, explains this more precisely in the NDR podcast "The Coronavirus Update": "It is not the case that you have a cross between two different mutants, as some media sources said. " Positions 484 and 452 have changed at the receptor binding sites, the latter phenomenon is known from the variant circulating in California. "It is likely that this one is also a mutant with a slight immune cape," concludes Drosten. The coronavirus has already gone through thousands of mutations, but there are only a few variants that are more worrying for humans than the original virus.

What does this mean for our immune system?

According to the Robert Koch Institute, the observed changes are associated with a "reduced ability to be neutralized by antibodies or T cells", the "extent of which has not been clearly clarified". Specifically, this could mean that vaccinated and convalescent people may be less well protected from infection with this variant. The World Health Organization also apparently assumes it. There it says that variant B.1.617 is "possibly" less sensitive to antibodies.

Are there any variants that have already been assessed as "worrying"?

Yes, with the above reasoning, this applies to the mutations discovered in South Africa (B.1.351) and Brazil (P.1). However, variant B.1.1.7, which was discovered in Great Britain at the end of 2020, is also classified as a "variant of concern". This is considered particularly contagious and is now the dominant variant in Germany as well. Regarding the latter, however, the RKI emphasizes: "According to current knowledge, all vaccines that are currently available in Germany protect very well against disease caused by B.1.1.7 and they also protect against serious diseases caused by the other variants."

You will find an overview with recommendations and a detailed report on the website of the Robert Koch Institute.

What does the mutant mean for the global vaccination campaign?

The corona vaccines previously approved in the EU probably also protect against the new Indian virus variant. This is what the EU Medicines Agency EMA is assuming. A spokesman has said the data so far are reassuring. However, the development would be followed up and checked. So far, four corona vaccines have been approved in the EU.

The companies Biontech and Pfizer had previously been optimistic that their vaccine would also work against the Indian virus variant. Biontech boss Sahin said that the corresponding tests were still running, but he was "confident" that the vaccine would also work against B.1.617. The mutant is characterized by changes that are already known from other Corona variants. The vaccine works against this. In total, Biontech and Pfizer have already tested more than 30 Corona variants. In almost all of them, the vaccine works just as well as in the original form. Even in cases where the immune response is weaker after vaccination, it is sufficient, he added.

According to the virologist Ciesek, the variant can weaken the effect of a vaccination, but cannot switch off its protection. What one observes is a slight restriction, but not a complete failure of the vaccinations, said the director of the Institute for Medical Virology at the Frankfurt University Hospital in the NDR podcast. Regarding reports from Great Britain, according to which retirement home residents were newly infected with this variant despite being completely vaccinated, Ciesek said that no vaccination protection was completely effective. New infections are not surprising, especially in older people with a weaker immune system. The important thing is that these people do not become seriously ill.

(As of: May 19, 2021)

Further articles on the coronavirus

We have created a news blog. In view of the large amount of information, this provides an overview of the most important current developments.

+ Covid-19: Current figures on the coronavirus in Germany (as of May 21)
+ Openings: These relaxations apply to vaccinated and convalescent people (as of May 10th)
+ New entry regulations: For whom the quarantine is no longer applicable - and what is necessary for it (as of May 13th)
+ "Green Certificate": This is how vaccinated people will travel in the EU in the future (as of May 21)

Test and protection

+ Covid-19 vaccines: when is a booster vaccination against the coronavirus necessary? (As of May 16)
+ Vaccines: When children could also be vaccinated (as of May 13th)
+ Vaccinations: Should pregnant women be vaccinated against the coronavirus? (As of May 19)
+ Vaccines: What the release of patents is about (as of May 8th)
+ Vaccinations: What is known about the side effects of vaccines (as of May 13th)

Contagion and Transmission

+ Virus variant: How dangerous is the Indian mutation (status: 19.5.)
+ Travel warning: The current list of risk areas (as of May 15)

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