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No Evidence BF.7 Will Trigger Wave in India: Prof. Satyajit Rath

There is no evidence either of the subvariant being particularly more transmissiblethan other variants of the Omicron lineage, according to the eminent immunologist.
No Evidence BF.7 Will Trigger Wave in India: Prof. Satyajit Rath

No Evidence BF.7 Will Trigger Wave in India: Prof. Satyajit Rath 

BF.7, the new Omicron subvariant which has triggered a surge in China, has also been detected in India. Till the filing of this article, India hadrecorded only four BF.7 cases. New precautionary measures taken by the government, including advisories on wearing masks in public places and avoiding crowds, are mostly restricted to screening and restrictions at airports

The highly infectious BF.7 has caused widespread concern. However, some crucial questions need to be answered only to keep it safe beyond panicky. In an interview with Newsclick, professor Satyajit Rath, an eminent immunologist and adjunct faculty at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, answers a few such questions.

Newsclick(NC):India passed through several other waves caused by other variants, including Omicron and Delta. Do you think the population will also be able to defy BF.7 due to the prior exposures?

Rath:I don’t think there is any evidence that the BF.7 variant of SARS-CoV-2 is likely to cause awave in India. There is no evidence either of it being particularly more transmissible, more capable of evading previous immune responses and more likely to cause severe illness than other variants of the Omicron lineage (unlike the Delta variant). There is no evidence, systematic or anecdotal, that hospitalisations in India for COVID-19-like illnesses are on the rise.

The limitation of the above arguments is their reliance on the statement ‘There is no evidence that...”. India’s data collection, analysis and reportage for tracking COVID-19 infections, illnesses and variants (and even vaccinations) have not functioned particularly extensively or well, making some of these claims shaky.

NC:How much do you think vaccination in India would help in case of rapid outbreaks?

Rath: Vaccinations as a response to any outbreaks are not likely to be of great use since the virus is widely circulating in the community and vaccine-induced immunity takes time to develop. That said, vaccinations have clearly been shown to help reduce the frequency of severe illness, hospitalisation and death.

However, they affect virus transmission far less effectively. Thus, while significant parts of our population remain uncovered (children), at least, by ‘precautionary’ doses, such coverage, as we do have, will undoubtedly help in containing the severity of illness in any outbreaks that might occur.

NC:There have been claims that Chinese vaccines are not stronger enough and that’s why they failed to curb the recent outbreak. What do you want to say about it?

Rath: While it is correct that inactivated whole-virus vaccines (such as some of the vaccines widely used in China as well as Covaxin in India) provide less potent protection than some of the other vaccines in use, they still provide substantial protection. Also, most of these first-generation vaccines, Chinese or not, do not reduce virus transmission as effectively. They do, however, reduce the chances of severe illness quite a bit.

China’s emerging problem appears to be a combination of patchy or inadequate vaccine coverage coupled with the complete lackof any virus circulating in the community so far. It means that people are inadequately protected once the virus does start circulating, leading to outbreaks. These conditions do not prevail in India.

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