Dr. Patrick Obinna, a virologist based in Abuja, says viruses constantly change through mutation, advising Nigerians to continue taking preventive measures against the Corona virus (COVID-19).
Obinna added, on Tuesday in Abuja, that it was important for Nigerians to continue observing protocols such as wearing face masks, observing social and physical distances, and washing of their hands regularly.
He explained that when a virus had one or more new mutations, it was called a variant of the original virus.
According to him, several variants of the virus (SARS-CoV-2), that cause coronavirus disease, are creating global concerns.
“These variants include: Alpha. (B.1.1.7), Beta (B.1.351), Gamma (P.1), Epsilon (B.1.427), Epsilon (B.1.429) and Delta (B.1.617.2).
“These COVID-19 variants appear to spread more easily, and might have an increased risk of hospitalisation and even death.
“Some of them reduce the effectiveness of some monoclonal antibody medications, and the antibodies generated by a previous COVID-19 infection or a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Speaking on the Delta variant, he said that the call for caution was coming at a time when research in Australia indicated how easily the variant could potentially spread.
“It is clear that the Delta variant has a substantial transmission advantage, but scientists have not yet established why, but they have also suggested three possible reasons:
“That the people it infects have a higher viral load, meaning they would emit more particles; that people will need to be exposed to less of the virus to become infected; or that a relatively short exposure time to an infected person is enough to spread the disease.
“It is possible that a person could be infected by being close to a carrier for a few seconds, if the carrier was to exhale a load of virus particles, and the person just happened to breathe in at exactly the wrong moment.
“It does not necessarily mean is that it is transmitting that way all the time for everybody. It may well just be one of those really unlucky moments.”
Obinna said that available COVID-19 vaccines were developed based on the COVID-19 virus before it had the mutations identified in these variants.
He added that while some research suggested that the vaccines had lower efficacy against the variants, the vaccines still appeared to provide protection against severe COVID-19.
The expert stressed that further research was still needed, noting that vaccine manufacturers were also creating booster shots to improve protection against variants.
While urging Nigerians to take the COVID-19 vaccines, he said that the hope was that, acquired immunity from the vaccines would indeed produce long-lasting protection against SARS-CoV-2 and bring an end to the pandemic.
“These new findings point encouragingly in that direction.
“They also serve as an important reminder to roll up your sleeves for the vaccine if you have not already done so, whether or not you have had COVID-19.
“Our best hope of winning this contest with the virus is to get as many people immunised now as possible. That will save lives, and reduce the likelihood of even more variants appearing that might evade protection from the current vaccines,” Obinna admonished.
Meanwhile, he called on the Presidential Steering Committee (PSC), to expand its vaccination campaign to include all 15 to 17 year-olds to avoid a jump in infections among schoolchildren across the country.
According to him, the number of cases in the country is relatively low by global standards.
He acknowledged that COVID-19 would most likely be in the country for a longer period of time; adding that it was therefore, advisable to establish sustainable response and mitigation while working against global vaccine inequity.
He advised Nigerian authorities to reassess COVID-19 regulations and enforce the wearing of face masks everywhere to curtail the Delta variant when it eventually gets into the country.
“By so doing the country would avoid a multiple lockdowns.
“The entrance of the Delta variant across the globe has changed the transmission dynamics, so there is need for the PSC to re-strategise,” Obinna added.
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control (NCDC), has said that after 40 sequences, the country was yet to detect the Delta variant.