Scientists uncover feature of Delta Covid variant that poses a threat to the vaccinated

Delta variant: Expert on vaccines’ impact on transmissibility

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The unmatched transmissibility rates of the delta variant have seen it dominate worldwide, with virologists warning the strain is at least 50 percent more infections than the previously dominant Alpha variant. The world dominance of the variant was soon followed by concerns it may thwart the current COVID-19 vaccine shield. Scientists investigating the strain have now highlighted some of the key behavioural patterns of the variant which could explain how it has managed to self-propagate so rapidly. 

Researchers have found that the delta variant is less sensitive to antibodies in the blood of people who have been vaccinated or were previously immunised.

The study, published in Nature, also found that the Delta was more efficient at replicating and better at breaking into cells from the respiratory tracts.

Researchers believe this may explain why the variant has spread so rapidly, becoming the dominant variant across many regions of the world.

The findings add to previous research which suggested the delta variant could double the risk of hospitalisation for unvaccinated individuals.

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Antibodies are Y shaped proteins which are secreted by the body as part of an immune response to infections.

They are essential for eliminating disease-causing molecules from the body, by either destroying or blocking them from infecting other cells.

Following a vaccination, anybody-producing immune cells will remain in the body as memory cells, providing immunity to future infections from the same pathogen.

Next time the body encounters the same microbe, the immune response will be quicker to tame the infection.

The Delta variant spread rapidly in schools and other educational settings in May.

The rise in hospital admissions could however be attributed to the strain’s transmissibility, as opposed to its virulence.

Virologists have assured that despite the findings, the immune defence yielded from two shots of the vaccine remains efficient.

In the latest study, researchers also analysed the behaviour of the virus in ‘mini organs’ which were grown in the lab using cells retrieved from people’s airways.

The team observed that a higher number of spikes on delta particles enabled them to more effectively intrude cells and replicate inside them.

Co-author of the study Anurag Agrawal from the CSIR Institute of Genomic and Integrative Biology in India, said: “We urgently need to consider ways of boosting vaccine responses against variants among healthcare workers.

“The study also suggests infection control measures will need to continue in the post-vaccine era.”

François Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, said the possibility of giving boosters to the population irrespective of age and health did not yet seem necessary.

He told The Guardian: “I think providing boosters on the condition of or presence of antibodies is very clever.

“When people ask me should I get a booster, it is reasonable to give boosters to those who do not have sufficient antibodies.”

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, added: “Vaccine alone does not provide long lasting protection against infection.

“But someone who has had a vaccine and had a natural infection will have rather higher and more longer lasting protections and have more confidence that even if they get natural infection, they are rather less likely to suffer severe disease.”

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