Rapid spread of the JN.1 variant

Understanding COVID

  • Coronaviruses: A large family of viruses that typically cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases like MERS and SARS.
  • SARS-CoV-2: The specific virus responsible for COVID-19. It’s a single-stranded RNA virus with characteristic spike proteins that give it a crown-like appearance under a microscope.

Origin and spread

  • First detected: December 2019, in Wuhan, China.
  • Transmission: Primarily through respiratory droplets and aerosols expelled when an infected person coughs, sneezes, talks, sings, or breathes.
  • Variants: The virus constantly evolves, leading to the emergence of new variants with differing transmissibility, severity, and immune escape potential.

Impact

  • Global pandemic: Declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2020.
  • Public health crisis: Caused widespread illness, death, and social and economic disruption.
  • Long-term consequences: Potential for long-term health complications like Long COVID, as well as economic and social ramifications.

Challenges and the way forward

  • Vaccine hesitancy and misinformation: Addressing concerns and promoting vaccine uptake remain crucial.
  • Managing new variants: Continued surveillance and adaptation of public health measures are essential.
  • Strengthening healthcare systems: Investing in healthcare infrastructure and preparedness for future outbreaks is key.

Vaccines used by different Countries

Nations

Primary vaccines

United States

Initially relied on Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines, later introduced Johnson & Johnson (adenoviral vector) and Novavax (protein subunit) options.

China

Developed and deployed its own Sinopharm (inactivated virus) and CoronaVac (inactivated virus) vaccines.

India

Initially focused on Covishield (AstraZeneca) and COVAX in (inactivated virus) vaccines, later introduced Sputnik V (adenoviral vector) and Novavax options.

European Union

Relied on a diverse range of vaccines, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson.

Brazil

Initially used CoronaVac, later incorporated Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines.

JN.1 variant

This variant is a descendant of the BA.2.86 Omicron lineage, and its prevalence has increased eight-fold in just one month due to the JN.1 variant’s rapid global spread. Its prevalence now stands at over 27%. The JN.1 variant’s immune evasion is significantly enhanced by an additional mutation (L455S) in the spike protein, as compared to the parent lineage BA.2.86.

  • the JN.1 variant was initially discovered in Luxembourg towards the end of August of this year
  • in a few other nations, it has also taken the lead.
  • it’s highly likely that the variant will take the lead among strains worldwide.
  • the JN.1 variant has high transmissibility, just like other Omicron sub lineages
  • the virus will spread more easily during the northern hemisphere’s winter

No significant outbreak has been documented to date, despite increased transmissibility and immune escape capability. The JN.1 variant was previously tracked as part of BA.2.86 but now accounts for the “vast majority” of the BA.2.86 lineage. The World Health Organisation classified JN.1 as a separate variant of interest a few days ago, motivated by the variant’s presence in most countries and its rapidly increasing spread.

  • The international health organisation has stated that, in comparison to other circulating variants, JN.1 is not linked to an increased severity of disease based on the scant evidence currently available Evidence from nations where the JN has been linked to an increase in hospital admissions and cases.
    • JN.1 variant does not imply a higher death rate.

Though the first COVID-19 case caused by the JN.1 variant was detected in Kerala during routine surveillance, Goa has reported the highest number of cases to date (19). India has so far reported 21 JN.1 cases in all. The 21 cases are all clinically mild and necessitate isolation at home. The number of COVID-19 cases in India has increased significantly over the past two weeks. It is highly desirable that high-risk individuals mask up, especially in poorly ventilated closed spaces, as COVID-19 deaths in people with comorbidities are still being reported in India.

  • universal masking should not be made mandatory at this time.
  • All patients with severe acute respiratory infections (SARI) and influenza-like illness (ILI) are being tested for COVID-19, which is a positive step that is sequenced as part of the updated surveillance guidelines.
  • ongoing attention should be paid to genome sequencing in search of novel variants.
  • India needs to learn from its previous mistakes and stop criticising States that record higher numbers of cases or novel variants.
    • States with more robust surveillance systems and higher standards of testing and reporting integrity are certain to record a higher number of cases.
    • Public health should neither be communalised nor politicised.

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