A novel ‘double mutant’ variant of SARS-CoV-2, along with other factors, has accelerated the COVID-19 pandemic in India, setting a global record of new daily cases. Against this backdrop, increasing vaccination rates, mandating social distancing and mask-wearing, and importing enough oxygen are the most crucial factors for India right now to free up hospital beds and contain this pandemic quickly, says GlobalData.
Nancy Jaser, Pharma Analyst at GlobalData, comments, “Despite the alarming spike in new cases with India’s second wave, there is simply not enough evidence to place blame on variants. The ‘double mutant’ strain, B.1.617, has been circulating through the country since last year but it is unclear why cases are surging now. The term ‘double mutant’ refers to the two mutations (L452R and E484Q) in the spike protein but is inaccurate as B.1.617 carries 13 mutations that alter amino acids. Other established variants also carry two or more mutations in the spike protein. Therefore, the term ‘double mutant’ is misleading and should be avoided.”
Several other aspects could have heavily contributed to the severity of India’s recent outbreak, including the low percentage of vaccinated persons, large religious and political gatherings, and limited hospital capacity. Recently, faulty oxygen valves in hospitals caused at least 22 known deaths and led to the current shortage of oxygen across the country.
Jaser explains, “The new strain targets younger age groups, who are less likely to be vaccinated. However, more research is required to understand the true impact of this variant and how effective current vaccines are against it.”
The variant, B.1.617, contains two mutations in the spike protein that have been previously observed separately, but never together. Experts are still studying this novel variant combination and do not have data on its virulence or its impact on the current outbreak.
Jaser concludes, “The ‘double mutant’ variant dates back to October of 2020, according to the GISAID genome database, and it is unclear if it even originated in India. Further, India’s limited genomic sequencing in areas with high cases make it difficult to say if this recent surge was caused by the variant; especially since this strain has spread to at least 20 other countries.”