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New Delhi: India is conducting the first ever study to find effectiveness of covid-19 vaccines against the newly identified Delta plus variant, central government said on Friday.

At least 10 states have reported 48 cases of Delta Plus variant of SARS CoV2 virus, with Maharashtra recording the maximum 20 cases of the mutant coronavirus strain. Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia (INSACOG), a consortium of 28 laboratories of union health ministry, department of Biotechnology, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) for whole genome sequencing in the context of covid-19 pandemic detected the variant from the total 45,000 samples sequenced so far.

The government said that nine cases of Delta Plus variant were found in Tamil Nadu, seven cases in Madhya Pradesh, three in Kerala, two each in Punjab and Gujarat, and one case each in Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Jammu and Karnataka.

“We are conducting the study to find if vaccines work against Delta plus variant. Such data is available nowhere in the country. The report will be available in 7 to 10 days. India was also the first country to culture Delta variant. Now we are working on Delta Plus, as we have enough information on Alpha, Beta," Dr Balram Bhargava, the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research said.

Delta Plus variant signifies Delta variant with an additional mutation. According to the ICMR, B.1.617.2.1 (AY.1) specifically refers to acquisition of K417N genetic variant in the background of Variant of Concern Delta (B.1.617.2).

The Variants of Concerns with public health importance that have been detected in community samples in India are Alpha (3,969), Beta (149) and Gamma (1). There is another lineage of B.1.617, Delta and Kappa (total 16,238) variants which was first observed in Maharashtra, was associated with unusual rise observed in several districts of the state.

The ICMR chief explained that Bharat Biotech's Covaxin remains equally effective against the Alpha variant, however its neutralising capabilities reduce threefold against Beta and Delta variant. Capability of Covishield vaccine developed by the Oxford-AstraZeneca manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII) reduces 2.5 to 9 folds against Alpha and two-fold against Delta. The data also show that Pfizer and Moderna's capabilities reduce significantly against the Delta variant, explained Bhargava. The ICMR chief further elaborated why it is significant to understand the effectiveness of vaccines against particular variants. He said that a vaccine may elicit high antibody response but a specific variant may reduce to a great extent while some vaccines may elicit lower antibodies which do not get reduced with a specific variant.

While there are concerns that the third wave of covid-19 will impact children, the government indicated that there is no near future plan to vaccinate children with covid-19 vaccines until there is more data on vaccination of children. "Whether very small children will ever need the vaccine, is still a question. Till such time we have more data on the vaccination of children, we will not be in a position to vaccinate children at large. However, we have started a small study on children between the age of 2 and 18, and we shall have the results of that by September or so," said the ICMR chief adding that however, international jury is still not out and they're still debating whether children need to be vaccinated. And we have seen that there have some cases of complications in the United States, he said.

India reported over 51,667 new cases of covid-19 in last 24 hours with 1328 deaths. Variants of Concerns are found to be distributed in 174 districts in 35 States. Highest numbers are reported from districts in Maharashtra, Delhi, Punjab, Telangana, West Bengal and Gujarat. Proportion of cases with Variants of Concerns has risen from 10.31% in May 2021 to 51% on 20th June 2021, according to the government data. “90% of the covid-19 cases in India are being driven by the B.1.617.2 (Delta) variant. B.1.617.2 classified as Delta variant of concern which has increased transmissibility, stronger binding to receptors of lung cells, potential reduction in monoclonal antibody response and potential post vaccination immune escape," Dr Sujeet Kumar Singh. Director. National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).

Delta Plus Variant (AY.1/2) has been found in over 12 countries. The government said that variants of concern (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta) are associated with increased transmissibility, change in virulence/ disease presentation and effect on diagnostics, drugs and vaccines.

“The second wave of covid-19 is not yet over in country as 75 districts still have more than 10% prevalence and 92 districts have 5-10% prevalence of coronavirus," said Lav Agarwal, joint secretary at union health ministry.

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