Unscientific therapies can lead to virus mutations: ICMR chief

Balram Bhargava

Chennai: Non-judicious use of therapies, that have not been scientifically established for treating Covid-19, put immune pressure on the virus which can lead to mutations, said Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chief Balram Bhargava amid concerns over the United Kingdom variant of the coronavirus.

Respiratory viruses may go through minor genetic mutations from time to time. But after several drifts, they can become a cause of concern as has happened with the new UK strain of the coronavirus. It has a higher transmissibility rate of about 60 per cent, he said at a press briefing.

“That is a point of concern. We are carrying out tests in India regularly for those variants,” Bhargava said.

The ICMR chief explained that these variations occur because of immune pressure on the virus.

“Immune pressure may be related to the environment, host, treatment or other modalities. So, it is important from the scientific community perspective that we do not put too much immune pressure on the virus.”

“We have to maintain judicious use of therapies which are going to benefit. If the benefit is not established, we should not use those therapies. Otherwise, they will put a tremendous immune pressure on the virus and it will tend to mutate more,” he said.

Regarding the effectiveness of vaccines in the wake of emergence of a mutated strain, Bhargava said available data suggests that much of the frontrunner vaccine candidates will continue to be effective against the virus.

“Although much of the vaccines that are the front-runners are targeting the S-protein and also the mRNA, we find that they will continue to be effective, according to the data that is available. We have to be very careful to look for any immunity breakthrough that may happen by vaccination,” he said.

Six people who returned to India from the United Kingdom have tested positive for the new mutated strain of coronavirus, the Union Health Ministry said on Tuesday.


NT Bureau