COVID-19 sure is mutating but thus far none of the changes observed in the virus strains is “cause for any concern for the scientists involved in making the vaccines”, observed CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) director Rakesh Mishra. Any mutations that have been witnessed do not mean the disease is “more severe or harmful” and we are not too sure of the consequences as there is no evidence yet to show it as “bad or worse” with regard to the clinical strains, he said.
Participating in a virtual discussion on RSTV along with AIIMS-Delhi’s Punit Mishra and Christian Medical College-Vellore’s Gangandeep Kang, the CCMB director pointed out that like any other RNA virus, the COVID-19 virus keeps mutating but “so far there has been no threat to vaccine-making”.
However, the concern is raising the hopes of the people “too much” when the vaccine is months away and “we do not yet know if there is going to be one”. “For now, we have to manage the pandemic without drugs or vaccine. We do not yet fully understand how the virus affects the body but we do know how it spreads from person to person,” he explained.
This, along with the fact the most patients are asymptomatic, is good enough for us to exercise caution and follow the time-tested and conventional methods of “wearing masks, personal hygiene of washing hands, cough etiquette and maintaining social distance”, he affirmed.
Dr. Kang said the COVID-19 virus has just one strand of genomic mutation unlike influenza which has eight strands and the virus can swap pieces of genetic material and mutate more efficiently using that trick. The mutations are happening without changing the basic function of replicating and infecting the host cells.
“We still do not have clarity on the functional consequences on the spread or severity of the disease on the human body,” she said. Since most of the vaccines under trial are targeted against the spike protein of the virus, the mutations are not a concern but “we need to continue to track the pathogen”.
“It has been seven months since the pandemic hit us. We are doing alright. We are able to come up with counter-measures. What we are doing with vaccines is the best we can. We can surely prevent the spread,” maintained Dr. Kang.
Dr. Mishra said that irrespective of the mutation, it is clear now COVID-19 asymptomatic patients too can spread the disease. “There is no need to panic. Vaccines in the making need not be 100% proven but the effective vaccines continue to be social distancing, masks and hand hygiene; we will win the war with these measures,” he added.