WHO declares coronavirus mutation in India ‘variant of concern’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified the COVID-19 mutation that has appeared in India as a “variant of concern”.

WHO’s senior scientist Maria Van Kerkhove said on Monday that there was “some available information to suggest increased transmissibility of B.1.617”, the variant detected in India.

She also pointed to early studies “suggesting that there is some reduced neutralisation”, a reference to the possibility that vaccines might be less effective against it.

“As such, we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level,” she said.

More details would be provided in the WHO’s weekly epidemiological update on Tuesday, she added.

The other three mutations designated as of concern by WHO are the variants first detected in Britain, South Africa and Brazil.

Harder to control

The WHO classifies COVID-19 variants into two categories: variants under observation and variants of concern. The latter are more contagious, hard to control or they lead to more severe illness.

But there is no evidence yet that coronavirus tests, drugs or vaccines are less effective against the variant in India, said Van Kerkhove.

The WHO’s Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan agreed, urging a “balanced approach”.

“What we know now is that the vaccines work, the diagnostics work, the same treatments that are used for the regular virus work,” she told journalists.

“So there’s really no need to change any of those, and in fact … people should go ahead and get whatever vaccine is available to them and that they are eligible for.”

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