World Health Organization chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan said on Thursday that some countries may see a rise in Covid-19 cases due to the XBB subvariant of the Omicron variant, reported PTI.
“There are over 300 subvariants of Omicron,” Swaminathan said. “I think the one that is concerning right now is XBB, which is a recombinant virus. We had seen some recombinant viruses earlier.”
Recombinant viruses have characteristics of their different strains.
The WHO official, who was speaking to the media during the Annual General Meeting of the Developing Countries Vaccine Manufacturers Network in Pune, explained that the XBB subvariant is immune-evasive, which means it can overcome the antibodies. “So slightly that we may see another wave of infections in some countries because of XBB,” she said.
Besides the XBB subvariant, Swaminathan said that the international health body is also tracking derivatives of BA.5 and BA.1 subvariants of Covid-19 which are also transmissible and immune-evasive.
Cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus were first reported in South Africa in November 2021. Since then, Omicron has diversified into a family of sub-lineages. Its first two main sub-lineages were BA.1 and BA.2. Both have branched out.
XBB has originated – or formed as a mutation of – from two strains of BA.2, the BA.2.75, a fast circulating variant, and BJ.1, which does not have fast transmissibility like BA.2.75 but has managed to infect a sizeable population globally.
Swaminathan said that Covid-19 testing should continue even if the cases are declining. As the virus evolves, it is going to become more transmissible, she added.
“We need to maintain at least a strategic sampling of genomic surveillance so that we can keep tracking the variants as we have been doing and studying,” she said.
Swaminathan said that re-infection with Covid-19 should be avoided even if it seems mild.
“Many people just think that it is just like the flu or any other respiratory infection, but more and more data is coming out on how Covid-19 is affecting all organ systems and not just the respiratory route,” she said. “It also affects the cardiovascular system and the inflammatory environment. So we have seen the risk of diabetes doubling, we have seen the risk of heart attacks and other neurocognitive problems.”
The WHO official also urged the countries to take three doses of the vaccines. She said that she has observed that in many nations, including India, the uptake of the third dose is low.
During Thursday’s event, Serum Institute of India Chief Executive Officer Adar Poonawalla said that his company stopped the production of booster doses of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine due to a lack of demand. “We had a stock of a few hundred million doses at that time and of that, 100 million doses have already expired,” he said while speaking to the media.
On Friday, there were 25,037 active Covid-19 cases in India.
‘Cough syrup deaths in The Gambia serious issue’
Meanwhile, Swaminathan also told the reporters that death of 66 children in The Gambia earlier this due to consumption of Indian-made cough syrups was “a very serious issue,” reported PTI. She spoke about the need to harmonise the operation of central as well as state-level drug regulators in the country.
On October 5, the World Health Organization had issued an alert against four contaminated medicines – Promethazine Oral Solution, Kofexmalin Baby Cough Syrup, Makoff Baby Cough Syrup, and Magrip N Cold Syrup – manufactured by Haryana-based drugmaker Maiden Pharmaceuticals.
Authorities in the west African country have linked the deaths, most of them due to acute kidney failure, to the four medicines.
“There are no mechanisms where regulators of different states can actually work together, do the inspections on each other’s products,” she said. “For India to remain a leader in generic medicines and vaccines space, it is important to prove that we have a very strong regulatory system.”
On October 12, the Haryana government suspended drug manufacturing at Maiden Pharmaceuticals’ Sonipat unit immediately. “We found major lapses in their manufacturing process,” an unidentified official from Haryana Food and Drugs Administration had told Scroll.in.