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TUESDAY, May 11, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- On Monday the World Health Organization called the B.1.617 variant of the COVID-19 virus, which has become more common in India, a "variant of concern," The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Scientists don't know much about this variant but are concerned that it may be a cause of the steep increase in India's infection rate.
"There is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies" of the variant," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of the WHO's coronavirus response, told the Times.
Van Kerkhove also noted that the vaccines may not work as well against this strain of the virus, although that worry comes from a study that has not been peer-reviewed. Still, WHO believes that the vaccines will provide enough protection against B.1.617.
The variant was first found in India in late 2020 and became more common in March. It's now been found in 32 countries including the United States and Britain, the Times reported.
As the pandemic ravages India, many experts are condemning the Indian government for not instituting nationwide restrictions to stem the tide of deaths.
With more than 350,000 new infections a day and nearly 250,000 total deaths the virus has overwhelmed the subcontinent. Some experts believe that the numbers are vastly undercounted and estimate that India is could see more than one million deaths by August.
Other variants of concern include B.1.1.7, which was first seen in the United Kingdom, and P.1, originally found in Brazil.
"I am concerned about 617 -- I think we have to keep a very close eye on it," Kristian Andersen, a virologist at Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California told the Times.
He cautioned, however, that few samples of the variant were being analyzed in India, making it hard to know exactly how dangerous B.1.617 is. "We really, really need better data out of India," he said.
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