Indian variant probably more prevalent than we think says virologist

A further 19 cases of infection with the Indian variant of coronavirus have been confirmed in Belgium. They come on top of the 5 cases of the Indian variant of the virus at a care home at Borsbeek in Antwerp Province. The virologist Marc Van Ranst has told VRT News that the Indian variant of coronavirus has probably spread more widely in Belgium that we think. However, Professor Van Ranst added that the variant is still not very prevalent. When asked if we should be worried about the effectiveness of vaccines against the Indian variant the virologist said that “They offer protection against all variants” and that they can be adapted to deal with new variants. 

One of the 5 care home residents that became infected with the Indian coronavirus variant has since died. This is despite them having been vaccinated. This begs the question of how worried we in Belgium should be about the Indian variant of coronavirus.

Professor Johan Neyts (photo above) of Leuven University’s (KUL) Rega Institute told VRT News that “Since yesterday evening we know from tests carried out on samples taken from patients that there are 19 other cases in the country, in Antwerp and Brussels. Half of these could be linked to travel to India. This means that the variant is circulating, but not very much.

Professor Neyts went on to say that between 5% and 10% of positive coronavirus tests are screened for variants.

Professor Neyts’ colleague Professor Marc Van Ranst confirms that the number of cases of the Indian coronavirus variant is increasing. "This is happening in the same way as it has with other variants. In the first instance you find a direct link with the country of origin, for example through travel. A little later you see an indirect link, contact with someone that has visited that country, for example. Then, a week later you find people for whom no link can be traced”.  

"No vaccine works 100%”

The care home residents in Borsbeek that became infected had all been fully vaccinated. So how did they become infected? 

“No vaccine is 100% effective. You will still have this kind of thing here and there. We have seen infections with other variants in care homes elsewhere. If there had been no vaccinations the Indian variant would have spread like wildfire among the residents and staff. There would have been more infections and probably more deaths. It is painful for the family, but it can be explained by the fact that no vaccine is 100% effective”.

Professor Van Ranst said that those that have been vaccinated can still become infected with the variant. “The current vaccines offer basic protection against all variants. This can be optimised by modifying the vaccine like what we do with the flu vaccine”. He added that an annual modification to the vaccine will be required.

"We must keep the viral issues as small as we can and vaccination is an answer to this, although it is not completely perfect”. 

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