Why should we be proud of INDIA

SPD expert Karl Lauterbach : "We underestimated the Indian variant at the beginning"

After there was almost exclusively good news from Great Britain in recent weeks due to the rapidly advancing vaccination campaign, there is now again bad news: The proportion of the Indian variant B.1.617 doubles in parts of the country and jeopardizes the opening plan.

Last Friday, the health authority Public Health England had classified the variant as "worrying", on Monday the World Health Organization (WHO) followed suit.

SPD health expert Karl Lauterbach has been warning about B.1.617 for weeks. But what does that mean in concrete terms for the risk of infection? And how great is the risk that the variant will also spread in Germany?

“The main problem is that the Indian variant is highly contagious. We can see that in the fact that it is spreading in the community and not just being brought in from India one by one, ”Lauterbach told Tagesspiegel. "We underestimated the variant at the beginning because it was assumed that it would only be so easy because of the conditions in India and that it is spreading so massively."

In India, the measures against the corona virus are not as strict as in Germany. There the variant spread rapidly, mainly due to mass events such as religious festivals, election campaign appearances and sporting events, some of which were attended by tens and even hundreds of thousands of people - mostly without masks or distance.

[If you want to have all the latest developments on the coronavirus pandemic live on your mobile phone, we recommend our app, which you can download here for Apple and Android devices.]

The vaccination rate in India, with less than ten percent of the first vaccinated, is significantly lower than in Germany, where a third have now been vaccinated at least once.

The knowledge about B.1.617 has changed in the meantime. “We now know that the variant of the immune response can evade those who have recovered or who have been vaccinated. B.1.617 is therefore a problematic variant, ”says Lauterbach.

“We absolutely have to avoid combining it with the South African variant B.1.351, which can elude the immune response of the vaccines even more. In India the number of cases is so high that such mutations could arise. ”In India there were recently more than 400,000 new infections with the coronavirus per day.

However, it is not only the number of cases in India that are causing concern, but also the numbers from Great Britain: There, around 40 days after the first occurrence, the Indian variant already accounts for more than ten percent of all cases - this is a similar temporal course to the British variant B. 1.1.7. At that time, the variant caused a massive wave in Germany as well.

In Great Britain it will depend on whether the vaccination rate can quickly rise to well over 60 percent. For Lauterbach it is clear: "If the Indian variant spreads faster, the number of cases could rise again in some regions."

Lauterbach gives the cautious all-clear for Germany. “In Germany we will probably be lucky and make ends meet. We will probably be spared from a widespread spread because we do not have as many people from India as Great Britain, ”said the epidemiologist.

In his view, nothing stands in the way of easing the measures in the coming week. In Berlin, where the Senate first reported laboratory-confirmed cases of the Indian variant on Tuesday, curfew and contact restrictions could, for example, be dropped on May 19.

"The openings in the coming week will be able to take place - anything else would not be proportionate," says Lauterbach. "How sustainable the openings will be depends on the development in summer."

[More on the topic: Indian corona doctor on the second wave: "You must never believe that you have defeated it" (T +)]

With this development, Lauterbach means the interplay between the spread of the variant and the progress of the vaccination campaign. Virologist Christian Drosten had recently spoken of a "seroprevelence", a basic immunization through recovery or vaccination, in the population. The UK opened when it was around 50 percent in mid-April.

Lauterbach shares the view that the 50 percent could be an important brand. And when could Germany achieve this? "In my estimation, we are already at the beginning of June with a spread of" seroprevelence "in the population of 50 percent," he says. This assumes that the vaccination quota continues to make weekly progress from around five million vaccine doses administered. "I think we can extrapolate the vaccination rate like this," says Lauterbach.

It is also important to see how the increased travel activity will affect the number of cases. The data from Great Britain show that the Indian variant came mainly from travelers returning to Europe. Lauterbach still believes "that nothing stands in the way of summer vacations" - under certain conditions.

“It is important that traveler tests continue to be sequenced consistently,” says Lauterbach. Currently, every 20th sample is checked for virus variants, in Baden-Württemberg even every one. "For people who come from areas where the Indian variant or the South African variant are more common, a quarantine should also be mandatory."

Lauterbach criticizes the lifting of vaccination prioritization in practices

This could then also apply to people who have already recovered or have been vaccinated. However, an example from a London nursing home shows how valuable the progress of the vaccination campaign can be in the face of variants such as B.1.617. There, 15 elderly residents were infected with the Indian variant - one week after the second vaccination with the Astrazeneca vaccine.

Although the immune response could not be maximally developed, none of the residents died. "The Indian variant shows how important a complete vaccination is," says Lauterbach. And because the vaccine takes some time to develop its effectiveness, he would also recommend “everyone to wait twelve weeks with the second dose of the Astrazeneca vaccine”.

The vaccine from Astrazeneca, like that from Johnson & Johnson, has been approved for all Germans since last week. Lauterbach believes that the fact that the first federal states are now beginning to completely lift the vaccination priority for vaccines from Biontech and Moderna in medical practices.

“I cannot understand the advance of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. The vaccination prioritization in medical practices should be retained, as NRW has now also said, ”says Lauterbach. It is sufficient that the prioritization has already been lifted for the vaccines from Astrazeneca and Johnson & Johnson. Because, according to Lauterbach: "With prioritization we can best protect the vulnerable groups."

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page