Tuesday, May 04, 2021



4 May, 2021

What we know about the Indian B.1.617 variant of coronavirus

India has recorded the world's sharpest spike in coronavirus infections this month, with political and financial capitals New Delhi and Mumbai running out of hospital beds, oxygen and medicines.

Scientists are studying what led to an unexpected surge, and particularly whether a variant of the novel coronavirus first detected in India is to blame.

The variant, named B.1.617, has raised global concern after being reported in some 17 countries including Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the United States, Singapore and Fiji.

Here's what we know about it:

How does the B.1.617 variant differ from regular COVID-19?

The B.1.617 variant contains two key mutations to the outer spike portion of the virus, referred to as E484Q and L452R.

Both are separately found in many other coronavirus variants, but this is the first time they have been reported together.

Virologist Shahid Jameel explained that a "double mutation in key areas of the virus's spike protein may increase these risks and allow the virus to escape the immune system".

The spike protein is the part of the virus that it uses to penetrate human cells.

The WHO has described it as a "variant of interest", along with other strains with known risks, such as those first detected in the United Kingdom, Brazil and South Africa, signifying a higher threat level.

Why India's crisis might be much worse than you imagined

Are variants driving the surge in cases? It's hard to say.

The WHO says more study is urgently needed. Laboratory-based studies of limited sample size suggested potential increased transmissibility, it concluded.

The picture is complicated because the highly transmissible B.117 variant first detected in the UK is behind spikes in some parts of India. In New Delhi, UK variant cases almost doubled during the second half of March.

The Indian variant, though, is widely present in Maharashtra, the country's hardest-hit state.

Prominent US disease modeller Chris Murray, from the University of Washington, said the sheer magnitude of infections in India in a short period of time suggested an "escape variant" may be overpowering any prior immunity from natural infections in those populations.

"That makes it most likely it's B.1.617," he said.

But gene sequencing data in India is sparse, and many cases are also being driven by the UK and South African variants.

Are vaccines effective against it?

White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci said earlier this week that preliminary evidence from lab studies suggested Covaxin, a vaccine developed in India, appeared capable of neutralizing the variant.

Public Health England said it was working with international partners but that there was currently no evidence that the Indian variant and two related variants caused more severe disease or rendered the vaccines currently deployed less effective.

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China's bid to woo the world with vaccines is backfiring: surge of Covid cases in Chile etc

Chile used a Chinese vaccine in one of the world's fastest vaccination drives, but then saw a strange surge in Covid cases. In the UAE, some recipients had to be given a third injection after two were found to deliver insufficient immunity.

Other nations have been left infuriated by supply failures. Turkey's president rebuked China's foreign minister over shortfalls that forced the closure of vaccination sites, and now cases have exploded.

In Mexico, delays have forced the postponement of second doses.

This weekend, the World Health Organisation (WHO) is weighing up available data to decide whether to give emergency use listing to two key Chinese vaccines, a safety endorsement that guides regulatory agencies around the world.

The move comes amid concerns over the lack of peer-reviewed studies and published data on clinical trials of the vaccines, unlike those developed by Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson that have received a WHO listing.

'We don't have a lot of clarity about them, which is very unusual,' says Peter English, a British expert on vaccines and communicable diseases, who is concerned about the wide range of results from countries using Chinese vaccines.

Chong Ja Ian, professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, told the Washington Post his government had accepted a Chinese vaccine to avoid giving offence to Beijing but could not approve use given its limited data. 'Singapore has options, unlike some of the countries which have received [the Chinese vaccine] Sinovac,' he added.

There are two main Chinese vaccines being sent around the world. The first to be reviewed by WHO is made by Sinopharm, a huge state-owned firm that claimed 79 per cent efficacy – impressive but significantly lower than jabs made by Western or Russian rivals.

Another by Sinovac, which has distributed more than 260 million doses worldwide, varied in trials from 50.7 per cent efficacy in Brazil – marginally above the 50 per cent threshold deemed acceptable for use – to more than 83 per cent in Turkey. The results of an earlier trial were even worse: the jab was estimated to be just 49.6 per cent effective against symptomatic cases, a figure that dropped to 35 per cent when asymptomatic Covid infections were included.

Studies in Chile found alarmingly low levels of protection after the first shot, with one reporting a single dose to be only three per cent effective, while a second found it was 16 per cent effective, rising to 67 per cent after the second shot.

These figures, along with the arrival of more virulent strains and a relaxation of rules, might help to explain why Chile's hospitals were overwhelmed with patients as cases rose to record levels last month, despite an impressively fast vaccine rollout. Chile has vaccinated more than four in ten citizens, not far behind British and Israeli rates – yet its confirmed fatality rate from Covid is 16 times higher than the UK, with ten times more cases.

Such figures are a shattering blow to China's efforts to promote its pharmaceutical industry, which has been plagued by scandals and low trust within its own borders, as well as setting back global efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

'This suggests Chinese vaccine science is not as advanced as in other areas,' said Nikolai Petrovsky, a vaccine developer and professor of medicine at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia.

Prof Petrovsky said China was relying largely on older technologies that use inactivated viruses mixed with aluminium-based compounds, called adjuvants, that stimulate human immune systems. This well-established process is similar to how vaccines have been made for a century, but it is harder to ensure quality control and eliminate variability when inactivated viruses are rushed into mass production, compared with modern genetic techniques being harnessed by the West.

'Unless Chinese firms can improve standards and provide data to show consistent effectiveness, their vaccines are likely to be used only by desperate countries where any vaccine may be attractive, particularly if provided for free,' said Prof Petrovsky.

Last week, the EU warned that China's vaccine diplomacy is backed by 'disinformation and manipulation efforts to undermine trust in Western-made vaccines'. 'Russia and China are using state-controlled media, networks of proxy media outlets and social media to achieve these goals.'

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Welcome to the promised land

by Jeff Jacoby

FOR IMMIGRANTS who come to America from a dictatorship or a theocracy, writes Roya Hakakian, "the hardest task of all" is figuring out "how to go about the business of living." A question that never even occurs to native-born Americans — "How do free people live?" — is one that immigrants from all but the most privileged backgrounds must grapple with.

Having entered the United States as a refugee from Iran in 1985, Hakakian knows firsthand how disorienting freedom can be to those who grew up without it.

"What is the shape of a day," she asks in A Beginner's Guide to America, her compelling and insightful portrait of the immigrant experience, "that is not fitted between the hours of official curfew or electricity outage? What is a night without fear? What is one that does not end at sundown because bars, discos, music, dancing, and gambling are not banned?" In the old country, it took all of one's mental and emotional energy to resist the government's oppression. In America, she tells newcomers who are going through what she once went through, the challenges are of a very different sort — not the least of which is getting used to a society in which freedom is taken for granted and the pursuit of happiness is a national ambition.

There is no shortage of books about immigration policy, immigration's history, or the economic and social effects of immigration. But "A Beginner's Guide to America" is something different. Written in the form of a manual for new immigrants, it is intended as a window for US-born natives on what the process of Americanization feels like to those going through it.

Hakakian, who came to the United States speaking no English, is today an accomplished essayist, poet, journalist, and human rights activist. She doesn't sugar-coat America's failings and imperfections, and her book notes candidly the strain of anti-immigrant hostility that has always existed here. Yet love and gratitude for her adopted country far outweigh the disappointments. However mean or obnoxious the nativists, she writes, "America remains the pioneer, however imperfectly, in accepting immigrants."

From the moment a newcomer arrives in America, signs of that acceptance are everywhere. At the airport, for example, "pinned on the ... chest pockets of the officers guiding everyone are name tags — 'Sanchez,' 'McWilliams,' 'Cho,' 'Al-Hamed' — and, by God, all of them are Americans!" This ethnic diversity is "the surest sign of America," Hakakian exults. "In the monochrome life you just left behind, such a motley human landscape would have been unthinkable."

Again and again, Hakakian calls attention to such seemingly unremarkable details, infusing them with insight into the American character.

Streets, she observes, are named for trees, birds, or natural features — not, as is common elsewhere, for "old wars and bygone enmities." There may be the occasional Washington Boulevard or Franklin Street, but no avenue or public square proclaims the glory of glowering ayatollahs or all-powerful despots.

Meaningful, too, is something else that to Americans is perfectly humdrum: Purchases can be returned for a refund.

This evokes disbelief in many immigrants, Hakakian says, since it would have been unthinkable in their native land. Yet it should evoke their joy and even patriotism as well, for "the exercise of returning goods is the surest sign of America's greatness to them." The right to get a refund demonstrates that the ordinary consumer is "formidable" here. More than that, she writes, it is evidence that in America, "anything is possible because a one-time decision need not be destiny."

Like foreign-born observers going back to Alexis de Tocqueville, Hakakian marvels at America's extraordinary culture of charity and volunteerism. "Americans do not help because you are one of them," she writes. "They help because that is what they do." They clean up beaches and register voters, coach Little League and support unknown artists, raise funds in a walkathon and serve meals at the homeless shelter. Hakakian describes America as a "land of strangers" who "bond through shared love."

Above all, perhaps, America is the "great equalizer," the land where "you can get to know the bogeyman of your past." Here, the detested or feared "other" of one's homeland — the Jew, the Pakistani, the Hutu, the Arab — is simply a fellow citizen. In America, someone an immigrant would once have shunned is the doctor who treats her illness or the mechanic who fixes her car. As foreigners become American, old bigotries fade away.

Lyrical and perceptive, A Beginner's Guide to America is an immigrant's love letter to the nation that took her in, and a timely reminder of what millions of human beings endure when they uproot their lives to become Americans by choice.

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Also see my other blogs. Main ones below:

http://snorphty.blogspot.com (TONGUE-TIED)

http://edwatch.blogspot.com (EDUCATION WATCH)

http://antigreen.blogspot.com (GREENIE WATCH)

http://pcwatch.blogspot.com (POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH)

http://australian-politics.blogspot.com/ (AUSTRALIAN POLITICS

http://awesternheart.blogspot.com.au/ (THE PSYCHOLOGIST)

https://heofen.blogspot.com/ (MY OTHER BLOGS)

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1 comment:

Bob Smith said...

Too bad we don't know what PCR amplification level the tests India is doing have. Amplification level is directly responsible for false positives.