Developing a vaccine in under 1 year is a massive achievement in medical history. While the coronavirus pandemic made a new normal of mask-wearing with physical and social distancing, it also urged global cooperation for vaccine research and distribution.
However, a vaccine can only be effective if people are willing to receive it. With rapid research and development in the search of vaccines, some may be concerned that the vaccine was rushed, and with these concerns also comes vaccine hesitancy.
There are many indicators that refer to virus variants that can be primarily responsible for the current outbreaks in various parts of Asia. In Sri Lanka and Cambodia, the Alpha (B.1.1.7) strain is predominant. From the information that is available at the moment, the mRNA vaccines produced by BioNtech/Pfizer and Moderna are an effective weapon against that variant. And mRNA vaccines can be modified relatively promptly. The AstraZeneca vaccine also offers good protection.
In India and further northwest in Nepal, however, the Delta variant (B.1.617) has already spread widely. Nepal has, as a result, seen a sharp rise in the number of recorded COVID-19 cases since mid-April. On the contrary, Nepal has been a worse hit than India in the percentage of its population size.
Genomic sequencing conducted by the Indian National Institute of Virology has identified that there might be eight mutations within the spike protein of the Delta variant (B.1.617). Two of them have been linked to higher rates of spread and one of them, as with the Gamma variant, has even been associated with immune escape, which enables the pathogens to dodge the human immune system.
Whereas according to London’s Imperial College, the Delta variant is 20% to 80% more contagious than the Alpha variant. In addition, the virus may be able to escape immunity conversed by previous infections or vaccination. British studies have also indicated that existing BioNtech/Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines are not as effective when it comes to protecting us from this new variant.
The new variant discovered in Vietnam is a hybrid of the Alpha (B.1.1.7) and Delta (B.1.617) variants. It should also be noticed that only 1 million of the 96-million-strong population have been vaccinated — with AstraZeneca, which protects well against the Alpha variant.
As mentioned above, is probably not as effective against the Delta variant. In the second half of the year, Vietnam hopes to receive additional mRNA vaccines from Biontech/Pfizer and Moderna. So far, however, it has not been investigated how any existing vaccines manage with the variant discovered in Vietnam.