I never saw any report which said numbers will go very high: Biotech Secy
Department of Biotechnology secretary Renu Swarup speaks to ET on the virus variants at work, ongoing studies to assess reinfection after vaccination and more. Excerpts: THE VARIANTS Data for the UK variant is already there. Those from South Africa and Brazil have not spread so much. In Punjab, the UK strain was the largest concern…
At a glance:
Data for the UK variant is already there. Those from South Africa and Brazil have not spread so much. In Punjab, the UK strain was the largest concern as is clearly brought out by the rate of transmission. This was also put out by the UK government. We have seen this variant in Delhi but still not in high percentages. However, trends change weekly and we are studying the transmission and its correlation with higher mortality and severity. The Nation Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has just got this data. The B.1.167 (Indian) variant is prevalent in Maharashtra and we are seeing it now growing and increasing in other states like Delhi and Karnataka. The transmission rates seem to be higher for it and the data on severity and mortality is being correlated.
VACCINES AND VARIANTS
Early data has shown both our vaccines are effective. The good thing is that we have been able to isolate South Africa, UK and the B.1.617 variants and have developed neutralising acids for them. We are now testing our vaccines – Covishield and Covaxin on it. The emergency authorisation has been given to Sputnik and we are already working with the Reddy group for testing it against these variants.
VACCINES AND REINFECTION
Even when vaccines were brought out it was not said that you won’t get the virus. The level of infection is mild. However, we are closely looking at reinfections after the vaccine. So far, we have only data for a few weeks and the numbers are low. Meanwhile, it’s important to maintain Covid-appropriate behaviour and keep masks on as the virus doesn’t recognise vaccine on entry but only when it hits the body.
As per the data available to us, we cannot find an immediate age or gender correlation. We will assess that as more data comes in.
HOW DOES INSACOG (INDIAN SARSCOV-2 CONSORTIUM ON GENOMICS) COME INTO THE PICTURE?
When the UK announced a variant of impact, we felt there was a need for a network of institutions and we set up the INSACOG — a national consortium of institutes — at the core of which is the scientific advisory committee.
AN INSACOG MEMBER HAS SAID THAT A WARNING OF SECOND WAVE WAS GIVEN
The person who has said it is not a member of the scientific advisory group. He is a former director (superannuated on April 30) of an institute, which is part of the INSACOG. Please note that all reporting is done by this core group. I also don’t understand the word ‘warning’ at all. There is information given from INSACOG to NCDC — to be clinically correlated with states and this has been going on regularly. My department is leading the INSACOG initiative and I never saw any such report which said that numbers will go very high or rise exponentially. We don’t have an algorithm that tells us of the increase in numbers or the severity. What data tells us is that a variant has come in, it needs to be watched, circulated and this information has throughout been shared with states. Making such irresponsible statements, especially as people are aware of what scientific tools tell us and what they don’t, is not a correct thing.
WHEN WAS INFORMATION SHARED WITH STATES?
This is done regularly. The UK variant was found prevalent in Punjab and it accordingly took action with measures like inter-state travel restrictions. Maharashtra did the same with higher testing and small lockdowns. All this happened because the health ministry sent out communications, the sequencing data was analysed in laboratories, shared with the NCDC and then passed on to states.
The lessons are clear, a viral infection has to be handled as a public health activity, has to be driven and taken forward by citizens. In terms of infrastructure, we have really managed to take it forward in a short period of one year- we could make two vaccines for emergency use, a third is being facilitated in India and another few are on trial – all because we have infrastructure and capacity. We have developed good collaboration with start ups, have worked successfully in diagnostic markers and this has brought higher levels of confidence that our institutes and start ups can deliver and collaborate to handle this kind of situation.