Covid-19 variants are spreading across the globe
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Covid-19 vaccines remain the best defence against the virus and all the mutations that have been reported, say authorities.
The Lambda Covid-19 variant was first detected in Peru at the end of last year, and now the Delta Plus variant has been detected in India and declared a variant of interest by the World Health Organization (WHO).
This week, Professor Tulio de Oliveira from the Network for Genomic Surveillance SA (NGS-SA) confirmed that SA authorities were on alert for these variants. Addressing a WHO briefing, he said: “At the moment, the Lambda variant is not a big concern. The real concern is the Delta variant that is much more transmissible and is causing a large number of infections and a very big third wave.”
The WHO has confirmed that “the lambda (variant) carries a number of mutations with suspected phenotypic implications, such as a potential increased transmissibility or possible increased resistance to neutralising antibodies.”
Current statistics show that this variant has already spread to 30 countries and is most prevalent in southern African countries.
Professor Felicity Burt, from the Division of Virology in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State (UFS), said the Lambda variant is not top of mind right now in South Africa, but it a concern.
“Lambda is currently listed on WHO as a variant of interest (VOI), which indicates that it has mutations that are known, or have potential, to affect the characteristics of the virus and that the prevalence is increasing in multiple countries over time. In contrast, a variant of concern has the same characteristics as a VOI, but in addition has one or more of the following: increased transmissibility, or is associated with change in disease severity or presentation, or the public health and social measures are less effective against the variant.”
She added vaccines being administered right now remain the best defence against any of the variants: “The same non-pharmaceutical interventions and precautions are recommended regardless of the variant that is circulating, and we need to understand that there is no room for complacency.
“We have relied on vaccines to protect us against disease since the first vaccine was developed against smallpox in the late 1700s. Vaccines will continue to play an important role in protection against current Sars-CoV-2 and other emerging diseases.”
The acting executive director of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), Professor Adrian Puren, said in a statement: “We would like to assure the public that the institute is focusing their resources and research efforts towards understanding the variants, and we would like to salute all healthcare workers who continue to fight bravely against Covid-19.”
Presenting the latest data, the NICD also confirmed that other variants of concern, including Alpha, and Eta, were also detected in May, and respectively accounts for 6% and 1% of the samples collected over the same period. No Eta variant detections have been recorded in samples collected in June, and the Alpha variant accounts for 7% of infections sequenced in June.
On Wednesday, the WHO added “lifesaving” interleukin-6 receptor blockers to its list of treatments for Covid-19. This is only the second time since the start of the pandemic that the WHO has made such a medical recommendation. Interleukin-6 receptor blockers are medicines that are prescribed as complementary medicines with corticosteroids.
WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement: “These drugs offer hope for patients and families who are suffering from the devastating impact of severe and critical Covid-19.”
The organisation confirmed that results from trials showed that in severely ill patients, administering these drugs resulted in 15 fewer deaths per 1000 patients. They also confirmed that using these medicines were effective and that the chance of severe and critically ill patients being put on a ventilator was reduced by 28%.