‘JN.1 is a faster spreading sub-variant, will not lead to serious illness’, says noted virologist

Interview with Dr T. Jacob on latest sub-variant, precautions and booster shots

Covid variant JN.1 (File) People wearing face mask at Khan Market in New Delhi | PTI

Tell us more about the new variant, JN.1 

All these are sub-variants of the parent variant, the Omicron which rocked the nation in 2022. And by March of that year, India became endemic, which means the numbers were low and steady. Even today, that steady wave continues. There is no change. And these numbers are very low and JN.1 still continues to be a sub-variant of interest (VOI) and not a sub-variant of concern (VOC). 

Variants are categorized into three categories: 'Variants of interest, 'Variants of concern' and 'Variants of high consequence’. The CDC states that a variant is a VOI if it shows ‘Specific genetic markers that have been associated with changes to receptor binding, reduced neutralization by antibodies generated against previous infection or vaccination, reduced efficacy of treatments, potential diagnostic impact, or predicted increase in transmissibility or disease severity.' As against this, a VOC as per the CDC is one in which 'there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, increased hospitalizations or deaths, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic failures’.

JN.1 is spreading widely given that 40 to 50 countries around the world are already infected. It is a slightly faster-spreading sub-variant than previously known ones. But, one must understand that this is only a sub-variant, and that too of a parent variant which has been in existence for two years now. This sub-variant is mild and will not lead to serious illness except in senior citizens and in those with malignancies and comorbidities. 

Will booster shots help in keeping this sub-variant at bay? 

Yes. Especially the elderly and those who have comorbidities and malignancies must take the booster shot for increased prevention from JN.1. The booster shot will be a big insurance against the wrath unleashed by the coronavirus variants and sub-variants. It will ensure that one need not get hospitalised or suffer from serious infections. The intranasal vaccine for Covid-19, iNCOVACC, stimulates a broad immune response and is highly recommended. It is safe and immunogenic. This is a personal recommendation from me. Globally, everybody who has received a booster dose has less disease. 

Tell us about the efficacy of booster shots. 

Efficacy is a matter of the height and breadth of immunity, that is how many variants will the booster shot cover. It's all related to coronavirus's spike protein. The higher the immunity, better the protection, no matter which vaccines one takes. The reason I’m recommending the iNCOVACC is that if you take a vaccine that causes severe reaction, even if rarely, it isn't a good bet. So, the safest is the intranasal drops which do not require injections at all. 

Is the JN.1 very severe in terms of transmissibility? 

No. It is a sub-variant that is interesting to learn more about, and between the previous sub-variants that have been circulating and this one, there is just a single mutation. 

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