JN.1, a new sub-variant of Omicron, spreads in India; no need for booster dose, says INSACOG chief

JN.1 booster dose

New Delhi: As India grapples with the rising cases of coronavirus, a new sub-variant of the Omicron variant, named JN.1, has been detected in the country. The first case of JN.1 was reported in Kerala on December 18, 2023, and since then, the sub-variant has been found in several other states, including Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Delhi.

JN.1 is believed to be more transmissible than the original Omicron variant, which itself is more contagious than the Delta variant that caused the devastating second wave of the pandemic in India earlier this year. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), JN.1 has 12 additional mutations in the spike protein, which helps the virus to attach to human cells and evade the immune system.

The emergence of JN.1 has raised concerns about the effectiveness of the existing vaccines and the need for a booster dose or a fourth vaccine. However, the Union Health Ministry and the India SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium (INSACOG), a network of 37 laboratories that monitors the genomic variations of the coronavirus, have assured that there is no evidence to suggest that the current vaccines are ineffective against JN.1 or that a booster dose is required for the general population.

INSACOG chief Dr. N.K. Arora said that the vaccines provide adequate protection against severe disease and death and that only those who are above 60 years of age and have comorbidities may need a third dose as a precautionary measure if they have not taken even a single dose yet. He advised the public not to panic and to follow the COVID-appropriate behavior, such as wearing masks, maintaining social distance, and avoiding crowded places.

JN.1 booster dose

Dr. Arora also said that the clinical manifestations of JN.1 are mild and do not require hospitalization. The common symptoms of JN.1 include fever, runny nose, cough, sometimes diarrhea, and severe body aches, which usually subside within a week. He said that the Union Health Ministry has directed the states to increase testing, tracing, and isolation of the JN.1 cases, and to ramp up the vaccination coverage.

According to the Union Health Ministry data updated on Sunday, December 24, 2023, India reported 656 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours, taking the total number of active cases to 3,742. The death toll in Kerala, which has the highest number of JN.1 cases, stood at 5,33,333 with one new death in the same period. The overall recovery rate in the country was 98.7%, and the vaccination coverage was 92.4%.