Experts have hypothesised that the B.1.617 variant was likely leading to the stark rise in infections, hospitalisations, and deaths in India. The country currently makes up 50 per cent of global Covid-19 cases and 30 per cent of global deaths due to the novel virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The rise of the new variant sparked concern about if the available vaccines’ effectiveness could be impacted.
But when speaking at a White House Covid-19 briefing on Tuesday, Dr Fauci said initial studies indicated the vaccines “are likely” effective and protective against the variant.
In one study, researchers looked at the efficacy of Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines against the variants first detected in India. The findings, which were reported in a pre-print paper on biorxiv.org and have yet to be peer-reviewed, showed both vaccines were still effective.
Serum samples were collected from nine people who recovered from Covid-19, six of whom were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and three of whom were fully vaccinated with Moderna’s vaccine. Researchers then studied how these samples naturalised lentiviruses that were equipped with the same mutations as the Indian variants, the B.1.617 and B.1.618.
They found that the serum samples still displayed an antibody response against the mutations.
“Thus, there is a good reason to believe that vaccinated individuals will remain protected against the B.1.617 and B.1.618 variants,” the researchers concluded.
The study was restricted to mRNA-based vaccines “but there is no reason to believe that vector-based vaccines such as that of Johnson and Johnson that express a stabilised, native, full-length spike protein would be different with regarding to antibody neutralisation of virus variants”, the researchers said.
Earlier this month, the WHO declared the coronavirus variant that was first identified in India as a “variant of concern” on a global level. This was because the variant was thought to have a higher transmissibility rate compared to original versions of the novel virus.
“Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sub lineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, during a press conference.
The variant has been detected in several states across the United States, such as Nevada and Nebraska.