New variants of Covid 19. What’s the concern?

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The Coronavirus is a peculiar species that mutates constantly. Mutation in common terms can be related to changing its genetic sequence.

So when a virus mutates, the genetic sequence changes, thus the characteristics of that virus also change. It means the virus will show a change in its behavior.

Some mutations are in favor of the virus, while other mutations may act against the virus by decreasing its virulence. Many viruses became more powerful after mutations. At the same time, some viruses got extinct after mutations.

SARS-CoV-2: A low mutated virus

structure of a coronavirus
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Proofreading is a term used in genetics to indicate the error correction process in the genetic material of a cell ( DNA or RNA). It means the enzymes in the virus prevent any alteration in the genetic (DNA / RNA) sequence of the virus and helps in maintaining the sequence code.

DNA viruses are more stable the polymerase enzyme identifies any flaws in the sequence during the process of infection. As a result, the genome sequence of most DNA viruses will be stable.  

On the other hand, RNA viruses like the Influenza virus lack such a correction process. Hence they mutate at a higher pace. Fortunately, the COVID virus mutates relatively at a slower pace compared to the Influenza virus. (Both belong to the same RNA virus group).

As a result, the vaccines and immunity developed after COVID infection can help in protecting against the SARS CoV-2 virus.

Variants of the coronavirus / COVID 19

The center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has classified the Coronavirus variants into three main groups.

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  • Variant of interest
  • Variant of concern
  • The variant of High consequence
  • Variants under monitoring (VUM)

Variant of interest (VOI)

Variants developed due to changes in the genetic sequence (Genetic marker) associated with a change in the structure of the surface receptor. As a result, the virus becomes more resistant to treatment.

Below is the table containing a list of the variant of interest

LineageWHO nameFirst identified
B.1.427EpsilonUSA
B.1.429EpsilonUSA -California
B.1.525EtaUnited kingdom, Nigeria (Dec 2020)
B.1.526IotaUSA – Newyork (NOV 2020)
B.1.617.1KappaIndia  (DEC 2020)
B.1.617.320AIndia (OCT 2020)
P.2ZetaBrazil (APR 2020)
BF.7*Variants under monitoring (VUM)Omicron subvariants
BQ.1$Variants under monitoring (VUM)Omicron subvariants
BA.2.75§Variants under monitoring (VUM)Omicron subvariants
XBBµVariants under monitoring (VUM)Omicron subvariants

Variants of Concern (VOC)

A more severe variant compared to the variant of interest. The virus usually shows evidence of increased transmissibility (Highly contagious), a more severe form of the disease ( Increased hospitalization & death), and antibody resistance (Vaccines may be inferior in action), and reports may indicate that the current diagnostic methods may become inferior in detecting the virus.

LineageWHO nameFirst identified
B.1.1.7AlphaUK
B.1.351BetaSouth Africa
B.1.617.2DeltaIndia
P.1GammaJapan & Brazil

The variant of High consequence (VHC)

The variant of high consequence is the worst of all. Such variants will be resistant to all the medical treatment measures and might be found to be devastating.

No COVID variant has mutated to such a level of High consequence.

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Variants under monitoring (VUM)

A SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes that are suspected to affect virus characteristics with some indication that it may pose a future risk, but evidence of phenotypic or epidemiological impact is currently unclear, requiring enhanced monitoring and repeat assessment pending new evidence. 

What is Delta variant Coronavirus?

Delta variant of coronavirus ( B.1.617.2) is a mutated variant of Concern, first identified in India. Within few weeks it has become the dominant strain in India leading to a massive second wave.

How is the Delta variant different?

The delta variant of Coronavirus has emerged from the B.1.617 variant with a mutation in receptor binding protein. As a result, the virus has increased efficiency to bind to the Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE2) receptors.

On the other hand, the mutation resulted in decreased affinity of the virus to the monoclonal antibody medicines. As a result, the virus can easily escape from immunity and can become more virulent. Hence the delta variant spreads faster than its normal counterpart.

Is the Indian COVID variant more dangerous?

According to CDC the delta variant is highly transmissible and is resistant to some EUA monoclonal antibody treatments. Evidence is pointing toward infecting people with a vaccination history or COVID history.

Are Moderna & Pfizer vaccines effective against Indian variants?

According to an article published by Venkata – Viswanath et al, the kappa variant of coronavirus is 6.8-fold more resistant to antibodies or vaccines. It means that the mutated variants are more resistant to neutralization.

But the vaccine was still able to neutralize the mutated variants. Hence it suggests that the vaccines are still effective against the mutated variants.

Does the Astra Zeneca vaccine protect against the Indian variant?

The present Delta and Delta plus variants are the variants of concern (VOC), which is a horrifying truth. VOC variants are known to reduce the efficacy of vaccines.  Some studies show the reduced efficacy of the present vaccines against these variants. But research does say that double-dose vaccination can protect to a greater extent and reduce COVID complications & hospitalization.

Is the delta plus variant dangerous?

The delta plus variant is an amplified version of the delta variant. The virus binds more easily to the lungs and is more resistant to antibodies. The variant was first identified in April 2021 in India.

But not much data is evident on the virulence of the virus variant.

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