Health And Family

What is COVID-19 Delta Plus variant? Infectious disease expert explains

Ritz L. Ignacio - Philstar.com
What is COVID-19 Delta Plus variant? Infectious disease expert explains
The STAR's June 24, 2021 editorial cartoon
The STAR/File

MANILA, Philippines — An infectious disease expert on Thursday urged Filipinos to maintain following health protocols and get vaccinated against COVID-19 as a new coronavirus variant discovered by Indian scientists is fueling a surge of infections nationwide and raising global concern.

As of June 25, India recorded 40 cases of the "Delta Plus," a mutated version of the highly contagious Delta variant, which has been blamed for the devastating second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in the South Asian nation last month. 

A more transmissible variant

Indian scientists found out that the Delta Plus variant is highly transmissible, with strong binding to lung cells and potential resistance to treatment by monoclonal antibodies. 

Doctor Benjamin Co said the new Delta variant has acquired a spike protein mutation called K417N, which was also found in the Beta variant or known as the South Africa variant. 

“This mutation in a variant in addition to the features already of the Delta variant can increase its transmissibility,” Co told Philstar.com in an exclusive interview. 

According to him, the K417N mutation of the Beta variant is believed to help the virus "escape neutralizing antibodies." 

A neutralizing antibody is an antibody that is responsible for defending cells from pathogens or organisms that cause disease. They are produced naturally by the body as part of an immune response. 

Besides India, cases of the Delta plus variant had also been identified in the US, as well as in Canada, India, Japan, Nepal, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland and Turkey.

Will vaccines still work?

Co said that because of the qualities of the new variant, there is a possibility that “it could make vaccines and antibody treatments less effective against it.”

He, however, cited that vaccine companies like Pfizer-BioNtech have shown that mRNA vaccines work against the Delta variant. But, according to him, it does not mean that it will work against the Delta plus lineage. 

According to the World Health Organization, there is no publicly available data so far on how effective the vaccines currently being used in India are against Delta Plus. 

The Indian government also said they will share the information immediately when it becomes available.

What should people do?

Co asked the public to maintain proper distancing, good ventilation, wear masks and continue to wash hands in view of the emergence of the Delta variant and its mutation. He reminded everyone to only move around for essential travel or errands. 

He also urged the government to do more testing as it is the only way to trace and identify those that need to be isolated or quarantined.

A quick and more organized vaccine roll out must be implemented at this point, because according to him, “it will take two to four weeks after the second dose before immunity to the virus can be achieved after vaccination.”

Co also suggested that the Philippines is an archipelago that has many leaky borders, so border controls should be stricter. 

As of June 23, the country has reported 17 Delta variant cases - with one remaining active, and one death.

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