World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan addressing a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland (File image: Reuters)
There is no available data so far which suggests that the double mutant strain of coronavirus is resistant to vaccines, said Soumya Swaminathan, the Chief Scientist of the World Health Organisation (WHO), on May 10.
Swaminathan’s remarks came a day after sections of the Indian media reported her as saying that the double mutant is potentially resistant to the available vaccines.
Clarifying her view, the top WHO official told CNBC TV-18 that there is “no data” which suggests that the B.1.617 variant of coronavirus is capable of evading the immunity provided through the vaccines.
“All available vaccines reduce severity of infection,” Swaminathan told the news channel, adding that even if a person contracts COVID-19 after getting vaccinated, the infection is mild in most cases.
On being asked whether the double mutant has driven India’s second pandemic wave, Swaminathan said the interim data suggests the role of B.1.617 in the sharp spike in caseload. However, there is “not enough data” to completely establish the link.
“For now, it seems to be more contagious, causing more infections – but we do not have enough data. We look forward to that data coming out from India,” she said.
The WHO scientist also refrained from predicting when the peak of second wave in India could be seen. A number states which first showed increase “will now plateau”, but other states will rise, she said.
On vaccines, Swaminathan said she supports India’s demand for patent waiver.
“Lifting patent related restrictions is important. It is a first step, but certainly not enough. Vaccines are complex and difficult to manufacture as compared to simple drugs,” she said, adding that technology transfer is equally crucial.
“Vaccines take long time to develop. That’s why in addition to waiver of patent we need technology transfer. That’s the only way to scale up. It should be done in a transparent manner. The doses coming out of such agreement should be prioritised for COVAX and not private purchase,” she said.
Notably, COVAX is the initiative headed by WHO and Gavi vaccine alliance to supply the anti-COVID jabs to the low-income countries.
Swaminathan further told CNBC TV-18 that countries which have vaccinated a significant section of the population should not lower their guard.
Even if 60 percent is vaccinated, around 40 percent of population is still vulnerable to infection, she explained.
On the vaccination drive of India, Swaminathan said the country should be lauded for initially vaccinating the priority groups – healthcare workers and other frontline workers.
The WHO Chief Scientist, however, added that “countries need to have a forecast on vaccine supply”.
Around 150 countries around the world have begun the use of vaccines in their battle against COVID-19. While the approved vaccines have proven clinical efficacy, data emerging from the ongoing imminusation drives also show real world efficacy, Swaminathan said, adding that “over 90 percent real world efficacy” was seen in Israel – where more than half the population is vaccinated.