Indian hospitals have been overwhelmed by Covid patients in recent weeks, after the Indian variant accelerated infections – and fatalities – across the country.
Weekly averages of hundreds of thousands of infections recently took India’s case total above 25 million. And fatalities are approaching 280,000 – although analysts warn it is in fact far higher.
The variant, also referred to as a “double mutant” because it has twice the amount of mutations of initial variants of Covid, is not thought to be twice as dangerous.
But officials from the World Health Organisation on Thursday issued a warning for the world, with the Indian variant (or B.1.617) classified as “a variant of concern”.
With one of the world’s fastest vaccination roll-outs, the US is well protected but not totally immune from the Indian variant, with WHO officials suggesting it carried “increased transmissibility”.
Days after the WHO’s warning, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classified B 1.617 a “variant of interest”, but not a “variant of concern”.
The US accounts for the third highest amount of infections of B 1.617, with 760 confirmed cases as of Tuesday — twice the number of cases a month ago, according to analysis by GISAID.
It is believed to be in states including California and New York, among others – and is not as widespread as the UK variant, which reached the US in the winter and accounts for a majority of the country’s infections.
With research into the Indian variant ongoing, its transmissibility and response to vaccines is not certain, but research so far suggests a form of immunity from B 1.616 for anyone vaccinated.
Dr Anthony Fauci, president Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on Tuesday that the vaccines available in the US appear to be effective against the B 1.617 variant.
When it took off in India, the country’s rate of vaccinates was below 10 per cent – far lower than the rate of vaccinations in the US, which is approaching 50 per cent of the adult population.