France’s health minister told a news outlet Monday that the Indian coronavirus variant has been detected in about 20 people thus far. Cases of the variant, identified as B.1.617, were first detected in France at the end of April, with the illnesses detected in three people who had recently traveled from India, France24.com reported.
The United States considers the strain from India to be a “variant of interest (VOI),” which differs from a “variant of concern (VOC).” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a VOI has been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.
There are four versions of the variant detected in India considered to be of interest by the CDC, including B.1.617, B.1.617.1, B.1.617.2 and B.1.617.3. Officials are watching for the variants’ impact on reduced neutralization by antibody treatments, and impact on vaccine efficacy. The World Health Organization (WHO) also considers the strain to be a variant of interest.
France’s health minister, Olivier Veran, reportedly told France Info radio that it was not clear if the currently authorized vaccines were effective against the Indian variant.
India is currently facing a devastating surge in cases that have been blamed on emerging variants and lax public health measures surrounding mass political rallies and religious celebrations. Hospitals across the country have been overwhelmed by ill patients with many running out of necessary supplies like oxygen and personal protective equipment.
May 6, 2021: A man receives a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a new vaccination center run by the Paris’ fire brigade in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical advisor, told ABC this weekend that mass vaccination efforts would be key to ending the crisis in India. However, India, which was expected to be a large producer of the AstraZeneca vaccine, has focused its attention elsewhere as supplies run scant. The U.S. and other countries pledged to send production materials and unused doses to the country in an effort to bridge the gap.
“They’ve got to get their resources – not only from within but also from without – that’s the reason why other countries need to chip in to be able to get either supplies for the Indians to make their own vaccines or to get vaccines donated,” Fauci said.