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India COVID sub-variant JN.1, now a WHO ‘variant of interest’

  • Published
    21st Dec, 2023

Recently, the Union Health Ministry has announced an alert on the Indian variant of COVID-19, namely JN.1, which was included in the list of ‘variant of Interest’ by World Health Organisation (WHO).


i. The Rising COVID-19 Cases and JN.1 Sub-Variant:

  • Focus: Surge in COVID-19 cases, particularly the JN.1 sub-variant.
  • Statistics: India reports 21 cases of JN.1, with 19 traced to Goa, and 1 each in Kerala and Maharashtra.

Understanding JN.1 Variant:

  • Variant Lineage: JN.1 is a sub-variant of BA.2.86, also known as Pirola, first detected in the United States.
  • Mutation Characteristics: While JN.1 has only one additional mutation on the spike protein compared to Pirola, its high number of spike protein mutations has drawn attention of researchers.

ii. Authorities' Response and Home-based Treatment

  • Alert Status: Authorities on high alert; 92% opt for home-based treatment.
  • Government Actions: Health Minister's virtual meeting, emphasizing mock drills every three months.
  • Statement: No need to panic; preparedness through drills, surveillance, and effective communication.

iii.  Epidemiological Trends and Deaths in December

  • Data Analyst's Insight: 19 COVID-19 deaths in December, conflicting reports of 16 deaths.
  • Daily Cases: 614 fresh cases on December 19, the highest since May 20.
  • Regional Trends: Kerala reports 2,041 of 2,311 active cases, attributing to robust reporting.

iv. WHO Monitoring and Variant of Interest (VOI)

  • WHO Classification:1 classified as a VOI; considered a low global public health risk.
  • Other VOIs:1.5, XBB.1.16, EG.5, BA.2.86—all descendants of omicron sub-variants.

v. Understanding Variants of Interest (VOIs)

  • Definition: A SARS-CoV-2 variant with genetic changes impacting transmissibility, virulence, etc.
  • VOI Criteria: Growth advantage in multiple WHO regions, increasing prevalence over time, and notable epidemiological impacts.

vi. Surveillance and Genome Sequencing

  • Global Collaboration: Genomic surveillance, epidemiology, and clinical behavior monitoring.
  • Submission Requirements: Countries encouraged submitting genome sequences to GISAID and share virus isolates via WHO Biohub.

vii. JN.1 Sequences and International Cooperation

  • Data Submission: 7,344 JN.1 sequences from 41 countries on GISAID as of December 16.
  • International Contribution: India third-largest contributor to GISAID globally.

Way Forward:

  • Criteria for VOCs: Must meet VOI criteria and exhibit detrimental changes in severity, impact on health systems, or vaccine effectiveness.
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