Amidst India’s struggle to emerge from the impact of Covid-19, new Coronavirus mutations are stalling its revival plans. Even though the vaccine rollout is well on its way, and people are being inoculated in record numbers, the mutated strains are highly transmissible and may even affect vaccine efficacy as well.
In the list of known variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) has added B.1.617.1 strain of Covid-19, classifying it as the Kappa variant. It is known to have first originated in India and has an additional mutation in its spike protein called Q1071H.
In Uttar Pradesh, India, two cases of Kappa variant were detected recently. It is not a new variant, and in fact, was first detected in India, in October 2020. It is sequenced as B.1.617.1 and is known to be much less intense than other variants. While conducting genome sequencing of 109 samples at King George’s medical college in Lucknow, the Kappa variant was detected. This variant itself carries a number of mutations, of which E484Q and L452R have been identified. This is the reason that this variant is also being referred to as the ‘double mutant’.
Even though a few cases have resurfaced, it is believed that the Delta variant replaced Kappa during the onslaught of the second Covid-19 wave. Nevertheless, the relevant authorities are keeping a close eye on its transmissibility, effectiveness against vaccines and severity of symptoms, and has been classified as a ‘variant of interest’.
WHO has classified the Kappa variant as a variant of interest instead of a variant of concern. A variant of interest is one with genetic markers that would affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostic or therapeutic escape. Such a variant would lead to significant community transmission and may cause apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), defines a variant of interest as, “A variant with specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.” A variant of concern on the other hand is bound to manifest severe symptoms and is highly transmissible.
Studies are not conclusive currently on whether an available lot of vaccines are effective against the Kappa variant or not. However, considering its lower intensity than other variants, measures such as masking, surveillance, and the use of authorized vaccines could offer reasonable protection.