While much remains to be known about the India COVID-19 variant — called B.1.617.2 — it has stoked fears globally amid a major coronavirus crisis in the Asian country.
How worried should we be if the variant makes its way to American shores, where more than 50% of the country is vaccinated?
Dr. Richard Kennedy, an infectious disease expert at Mayo Clinic, believes that the existing vaccines — from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — will be effective against the India variant, if slightly less so.
“For all variants we have right now, we’re seeing a decent level of protection [from the vaccines,” Kennedy said.
British researchers fear the India variant is 50% more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean the vaccine won’t stop it in its tracks.
Of course, no vaccine works 100% perfectly, Kennedy said.
“Nothing works 100% in medicine. And with a vaccine, protection is not yes or no. It’s not a light switch, but more of a dimmer,” he said.
Kennedy stressed that he’s “not worried about any of the variants we can see now. I think the vaccine works very well or good enough against them.”
What he is worried about are future variants, those that mutate off of variants, not the original coronavirus.
“With the current vaccine, the closer the variant is to the original strain, the more protections you’ll have,” Kennedy explained. “The more mutations you have, the less likely you’ll have a high level of protection.
But, Kennedy stressed, drugmakers are already looking ahead. They’re developing booster shots and new vaccines that should better protect from the circulating variants.
India on Wednesday reported more coronavirus deaths in a single day than any other country at any time during the pandemic, while infections continued to spread through vast rural areas with weak health systems.
The Health Ministry reported a record 4,529 deaths in the past 24 hours, driving India’s confirmed fatalities to 283,248. It also reported 267,334 new infections as daily cases remained below 300,000 for the third consecutive day. The numbers are almost certainly undercounted.
The previous record for most daily deaths from the coronavirus was set on Jan. 12 in the United States, when 4,475 people died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
With over 25 million cases since the pandemic began, India’s confirmed infections are second only to the U.S.
Experts say new infections in India, which had been rising steeply, may finally be slowing. But deaths have continued to rise and hospitals are still crowded with patients. Over the last month, India’s COVID-19 fatalities have jumped six-fold.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.