The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the COVID-19 mutation that emerged in India as a “variant of concern”.
WHO senior scientist Maria Van Kerkhove said on Monday that there was “some information available to suggest an increase in B.1.617 transmission”, a variant detected in India.
She also points to preliminary studies that “suggest that there is some diminishing neutralization”, a reference to the possibility that the vaccine may be less effective against it.
“Therefore, we classify this as a variant of concern at the global level,” She said.
Further details will be provided in the WHO’s weekly epidemiology update on Tuesday, she added. Three other mutations of concern to WHO are the variants that were first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.
WHO classifies variants of COVID-19 into two categories: variants under observation and variants of concern. The latter are more contagious, difficult to control or cause more severe disease. But there is no evidence yet that coronavirus tests, drugs or vaccines are less effective against variants in India, Van Kerkhove said.
WHO Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan agreed, encouraging a “balanced approach”.
“What we know now is that vaccines are working, diagnostics are working, the same treatments that are used for normal viruses work,” She told reporters.
“So there’s really no need to change all of that, and in fact … people should go ahead and get whatever vaccine is available to them and that qualifies for them.”
Experts highlight that the more the virus spreads, the greater the risk of the virus finding ideal conditions for mutating, stressing that everything must be done to control transmission.
“We will continue to see variants of concern around the world, and we must do everything we can to really limit its spread,” said Van Kerkhove.
Hundreds of thousands of people have been infected with the coronavirus every day in India, and more than 22.6 million infections have been counted in the country since the pandemic began.