In the wake of a new coronavirus strain detected in the UK, Maharashtra COVID-19 task force head Dr Sanjay Oak on Wednesday said vaccines currently available in some countries may not be 100 percent effective against the new variant.
Talking to reporters here, Oak also said mass gatherings were acting as COVID-19 super-spreaders and should be avoided.
He said there was a need to be careful, and that he feels people need to wear masks for the next year. Referring to the new COVID-19 variant detected in Britain, he said "a minor change in the mRNA has created a new strain of the coronavirus."
The vaccines which are in the approval stage or have been approved in some countries were developed on the earlier strains of coronavirus, he said. "Even a minor change in the mutated COVID-19 strain could challenge the efficacy of the vaccines which are recently developed," Oak said.
The outer layer of the virus has spikes that look like a corona, hence the virus is called coronavirus. "Even a change in one spike could increase or decrease its severity," the official said. "Because of the new strain, the currently available vaccines may not have 100 percent impact on the virus (variant)," he said.
With a new strain found in some of the western countries and South Africa, there is a need to check whether the vaccines will have similar efficacy against the new strain or not. It will take some time to ascertain it, he said.
"A vaccine is always developed on a particular strain of the virus. At the same time, though a new strain has been found, we must not forget that all these strains are part of one coronavirus family; hence the vaccine could have some impact on its spread," Oak said.
But, it will take time to find out how the new strain responds to the vaccine, he said. Oak said the general practice is that a new vaccine is to be developed for a new virus.
"It has been said that the wait for a new vaccine for the newly found strain is minimum six weeks," he said. Another factor that needs to be understood is once a person has COVID-19, his/her body develops some neutralizing antibodies against the virus, he said.
Chances of COVID-19 re-infection in the recovered person are dependent on the amount of antibodies developed. "If there are a good number of antibodies, then despite a second round of infection, the person may not fall ill," he said.
"If you ask me about chances of infection from the newly detected strain of coronavirus, the answer is yes," said Oak, who contracted COVID-19 in June and later recovered.
A person who has recovered from COVID-19 may get a fresh infection from the new strain, but its impact on the body depends on the number of antibodies developed during the first infection, the official said.
"If there are sufficient number antibodies, then the new strain may not be very harmful," he said.
"A virus can mutate once it travels from one continent to another. Hence, we need to be more careful in the coming months. I feel we need to wear masks for the next year," he said.
He also said mass gatherings, like weddings or other functions attended by hundreds of people, are acting as super spreaders and should be avoided.
"There are chances of many people catching infection by coming close to each other, not wearing masks and gathering in large numbers in a small place," he said.
Notably, social distancing norms were flouted at a BJP MLA's wedding in Pune on Sunday, with hundreds of people attending it and many of them, including senior party leaders, not bothering to wear masks.
(Edited by : Yashi)