A new mutation of the Delta variant of COVID-19 which was being monitored and assessed in the UK has now been classed as a Variant Under Investigation (VUI) amid concerns of its increased growth rate, with experts warning it is a reminder that the pandemic is not over.
What is the AY.4.2 variant?
AY.4.2, dubbed "Delta Plus" and now named VUI-21OCT-01 by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), has been under closer scrutiny in recent days after evidence indicated that it spread more quickly than the dominant Delta variant.
While evidence is still emerging, so far it does not appear the new VUI causes more severe disease or renders the vaccines currently deployed any less effective.
"The Delta variant sub-lineage known as Delta AY.4.2 was designated a Variant Under Investigation by the UK Health Security Agency on 20 October 2021 and has been given the official name VUI-21OCT-01," the UKHSA said.
“The designation was made on the basis that this sub-lineage has become increasingly common in the UK in recent months, and there is some early evidence that it may have an increased growth rate in the UK compared to Delta. More evidence is needed to know whether this is due to changes in the virus’ behaviour or to epidemiological conditions," it said.
Does it have any mutations?
"The genome of VUI-21OCT-01 does not have many mutations compared to Delta. However, a small change may be enough to cause a difference in the virus properties in some circumstances. UKHSA is monitoring this closely," the health agency in charge of assessing COVID variants noted.
As is routine for any new VUI, the UKHSA said it is carrying out laboratory and epidemiological investigations to better understand the properties of this variant.
“Viruses mutate often and at random, and it is not unexpected that new variants will continue to arise as the pandemic goes on, particularly while the case rate remains high," said Dr Jenny Harries, UKHSA Chief Executive.
Is it a concern in India?
According to reports from the Economic Times, so far less than 0.1% of the cases sequenced in India have been identified with the variant.
A lead scientist from INSACOG, a network of Indian institutes that monitor genomic variations in the SARS-CoV-2, said that the number is too low to be a current problem and it is too early to decide whether the sub-variant does has a real growth advantage.
Meanwhile, the Delta variant continues to be the dominant variant of concern in India and across the world.
(With PTI inputs)