I’ve heard there is yet another new variant of SARS-CoV-2. Say it ain’t so!
Yes, it is so. Viruses mutate, new variants emerge. That’s happened a number of times with SARS-CoV-2 since the start of the pandemic in 2020. And it’s happening again. In mid-August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced: “A new variant of SARS-CoV-2 called BA.2.86 was detected in samples from people in Denmark and Israel. At least two cases have been identified in the United States. This variant is notable because it has multiple genetic differences from previous versions of SARS-CoV-2.”
In fact there are 35 mutations on the spike protein compared to currently circulating variants. That’s as big of a difference as there was between the original virus and the omicron variant identified in November 2021.
The spike protein is what the virus uses to enter our cells. Those mutations could potentially help the virus evade the protection provided by COVID vaccinations and prior infections, says Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist and scientific consultant to the CDC, who writes the “Your Local Epidemiologist” blog.
The CDC and the World Health Organization are taking a closer look.
There’s not yet enough data to assess the potential of this variant to cause a wave. But the CDC said on Wednesday that, “based on what [it] knows now, existing tests used to detect and medications used to treat COVID-19 appear to be effective” for the variant.
The CDC also believes that BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccines because the mutations on the spike protein could allow it to evade our immune systems despite prior vaccinations and having had COVID-19. Scientists are evaluating the effectiveness of the new booster expected to be approved by mid September.
And companies that make antigen tests, vaccines and treatments are testing them to see if they are effective on the variant.
If the conclusion is that this variant poses a significant risk of triggering waves of cases due to its mutations, it will get it own name. That name, next in the Greek alphabet for COVID variants, would be pi.