Coronavirus Briefing Newsletter – Times of India

  • India on Sunday reported 1,604 Covid cases and 8 fatalities. The cumulative caseload is 4,46,52,266 (18,317 active cases) and 5,29,016 fatalities
  • Worldwide: Over 630 million cases and over 6.58 million fatalities.
  • Vaccination in India: Over 2.19 billion doses. Worldwide: Over 12.83 billion doses.
Third Covid winter could be a ‘variant soup’ and hard to predict
Third Covid winter could be a ‘variant soup’ and hard to predict
With several respiratory viruses on the rise as weather cools in the early winter, the mix of Covid-19 variants is likely to shift.
Variant soup

  • The omicron variant that accounted for most infections through the summer, BA.5, is now giving way to a ‘variant soup’ — a mixture of different omicron sub-variants, including BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. These variants are more transmissible and better at dodging immunity than the original omicron strain.

Growing family of variants

  • The variants — such as Alpha and Delta — that have driven pandemic waves in the past, all arose from distinct branches of the SARS-CoV-2 family tree. But since omicron emerged in late 2021, it has spawned a series of sub-variants — including BA.2 and BA.5 — that have sparked global waves of infection.
  • Variant trackers have been combing through global SARS-CoV-2 sequencing data to identify candidates for the past few months. But instead of one or two fast-rising lineages, they have identified more than a dozen to watch.

Experts speak

  • An increasing number of experts are worried that this wave could be markedly different from the previous ones. The emergence of multiple variants with the ability to evade immunity could push the number of patients of the scale not seen earlier.

Emerging patterns

  • Amid the chaos, new patterns are emerging. The swarm has helped scientists to pinpoint a handful of immunity-evading mutations that power a variant’s spread. Globally, a few heavyweight variants have emerged, yielding different outcomes in different regions — at least, so far.
  • In Europe, North America and Africa, the prevalence of omicron offshoots in the BQ.1 family is rising quickly, even as overall cases seem to fall. In Asian countries including Singapore, Bangladesh and India, a lineage called XBB has already set off fresh waves of infection. Scientists are closely watching several regions where both are circulating to see which has the edge.

In India

  • Of the swarm, BQ.1.1 and XBB seem to be rising to the top. “We will be in a position to tell which one survives here. We suspect XBB,” said Rajesh Karyakarte, a microbiologist based at the BJ Government Medical College, Pune, who coordinates SARS-CoV-2 genetic sequencing.
  • In an unpublished study, covering 28 people with XBB infections, Karyakarte’s team found that none had severe symptoms.

Questions remain

  • The question, however, how bad the wave will be this time around is unanswered. But several factors — including low booster uptake and fewer people wearing masks in public — may add complications to the potential surge. The data on Covid-19 infections is also somewhat muddled because positive tests are going uncounted.
Expert worry about Long Covid
Expert worry about Long Covid
  • The number of cases of XBB sub-variant of the omicron strain in Maharashtra has reached 36, the health department said on Saturday. Most of these cases patients recovered in home isolation.
  • The spread: Pune district reported 21 XBB of the cases, followed by 10 in Thane, two in Nagpur and one each in Akola, Amravati and Raigad. Two of the XBB patients were in the 11-20 age group, 13 in the 21-40 segment, 14 in the 41-60 category and seven were over 60. The patients comprised 22 males and 14 females.
  • A concern: The experts on Maharashtra’s Covid-19 Task Force expressed concern about rising cases of Long Covid at a recent meeting. Long Covid is the term used for mid- and long-term effects that persist after a person recovers from the initial coronavirus infection.
  • Monitoring: “Incidence of conditions such as diabetes, brain fog and heart diseases seem to be increasing. Therefore, monitoring and follow-up of Covid-recovered patients is necessary,” a release said.
  • Mask up: The experts instructed that it would be beneficial to wear masks in hospitals and clinics by health workers and others.
China launches Covid-19 vaccine inhaled through mouth
China launches Covid-19 vaccine inhaled through mouth
China’s Shanghai has started administering an inhalable Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday in what appears to be a world first.
Needle-free vaccine

  • The vaccine, a mist that is sucked in through the mouth, is being offered for free as a booster dose for previously vaccinated individuals, according to an announcement posted on an official city social media account.
  • Needle-free vaccines may persuade people who don’t like getting a shot to get vaccinated, as well as help expand vaccination in poor countries because they are easier to administer.

How it works

  • A video posted by an online Chinese state media outlet showed people at a community health centre sticking the short nozzle of a translucent white cup into their mouths. Accompanying text said that after slowly inhaling, one individual held his breath for five seconds, with the entire procedure completed in 20 seconds.

An advantage

  • A vaccine taken in the mouth could also fend off the virus before it reaches the rest of the respiratory system. However, this would depend on the size of the droplets to some extent, one expert said.
  • Larger droplets would train defences of the mouth and throat, while smaller ones would travel further into the body, said Dr Vineeta Bal, an immunologist in India.

Approved as a booster

  • Chinese regulators approved the vaccine for use as a booster in September. It has been developed by Chinese biopharmaceutical company Cansino Biologics Inc as an aerosol version of the same company’s one-shot adenovirus vaccine, which uses a relatively harmless cold virus.

Elsewhere and India

  • Cansino has said the inhaled vaccine has completed clinical trials in China, Hungary, Pakistan, Malaysia, Argentina and Mexico.
  • Regulators in India have approved a nasal vaccine, another needle-free approach, but it has yet to be rolled out. The vaccine, developed in the U.S. and licensed to Indian vaccine maker Bharat Biotech, is squirted in the nose.
  • About a dozen nasal vaccines are being tested globally, according to the World Health Organization.
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Written by: Rakesh Rai, Sushmita Choudhury, Jayanta Kalita, Prabhash K Dutta
Research: Rajesh Sharma

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