COVID-19 vaccines being used in the United States work against the highly contagious variant that was first detected in India, top US health officials said on Tuesday.
The B.1.617 virus variant, first identified in India last year, has been classified as a ''variant of concern'' by the World Health Organisation.
"The modest neutralisation resistance to the 617 antibodies suggests that the current vaccines that we are all using would be at least partially and probably quite protective," Dr Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the US President told journalists during a news conference in Washington.
Making a presentation of his data and latest research on this issue, Dr Fauci said that both the variants B.1.617 and B.1.618, that have been identified in India, have been neutralized with only a 2.5 fold diminution in titer. "That's well within the cushion effect of the capability to protect against infection and certainly against serious disease".
"So, in summary, this is just another example of the scientific data accruing, literally over the last few days, indicating another very strong reason why we should be getting vaccinated," Dr Fauci pointed.
Andy Slavitt, White House COVID-19 Senior Advisor said the vaccines that are available in the US are effective against the variant found in India.
"And it is all the more reason why it's important for all of us, who have the opportunity to get vaccinated, to do so because we've seen the devastation that these variants can cause in other countries. And we should not feel that this can't happen here," Slavitt said in response to a question.
The US findings support an earlier study carried out by scientists at Oxford University which also shows that approved COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the B.1.617.2 variant first found in India.
The study, led by Oxford’s Prof. Gavin Screaton, looked at two vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca — and found that both create sufficient antibodies to neutralize the Indian variant in enough incidences to drastically reduce hospitalizations and fatalities.
India’s homegrown vaccine Covaxin has also been found to be effective against these aggressive variants first detected in India but have been found in other countries as well.