Lately, attention has been focused on Omicron’s “Eris” subvariant. But the latest COVID variant BA.2.86 is described as “radically different.”
Health authorities are tracking another new variant of COVID-19 that has a large number of mutations.
The new lineage, called BA.2.86, was classified as a “variant under surveillance” last week by the World Health Organization (WHO).
There is no evidence that it spreads more quickly or causes more severe illness, but scientists are monitoring the variant that has been detected in Denmark, the United Kingdom, the United States and Israel.
What are the latest variants that authorities are following?
COVID infections and hospitalizations have already been on the rise in the United States, Europe and Asia, and this summer many cases have been attributed to the subvariant EG.5 “Eris”descendant of the Omicron lineage.
Public health authorities are now tracking another variant, BA.2.86, due to its more than 30 mutations.
BA.2.86 comes from an “earlier branch” of the coronavirus, so it differs from the variant targeted by current vaccines, said Wesley Long, medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist Hospital.
He noted that it remains to be seen whether BA.2.86 will be able to compete with other strains of the virus or whether it will have any advantage in escaping immune responses from prior infection or vaccination.
One of the reasons why EG.5 was advanced by the WHO to become a “variant of interest” was that, for example, it has increased in prevalence compared to other variants.
Radically different structure
The fact that many countries have drastically reduced testing for COVID-19 cases may complicate efforts to find new variants.
In that situation, the trajectory of BA.2.86 “does not look good right now,” given the speed at which new cases are being identified, says Eric Topol, a genomics expert and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California. ).
Its numerous mutations make BA.2.86 “radically different in its structure” compared to previous variants, Topol said.
The main question, he added, is whether BA.2.86 will prove highly transmissible.
The WHO has urged countries to continue surveillance and sequencing of COVID-19 cases, but has stated that the information available on BA.2.86 is very “limited at this time.”
Will people have more severe illness with these variants?
According to Topol, further spread of the BA.2.86 variant would likely cause more illness and death in vulnerable populations.
But it’s too early to know whether BA.2.86 will cause more serious illnesses.
According to a spokesperson for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “based on available evidence, we do not yet know what risks, if any, (BA.2.86) may pose to further public health.” beyond what has been observed with other lineages currently in circulation.
Rowland Kao of the University of Edinburgh told Euronews Next last week that if a new variant were to cause an increase in COVID-19 cases, the number of hospitalizations in combination with other viruses could cause problems for health systems.
Will the vaccines be effective against the new variants?
“The vaccine is still going to give you a great defense against disease and death,” Long says.
The COVID boosters being developed now were made to attack Omicron’s XBB subvariant.
Moderna recently announced that its updated COVID booster vaccine demonstrated an immune response against the EG.5 and FL.1.5.1 variants. The vaccine was also shown to be effective against circulating Omicron XBB strains.
Pfizer has also said that its updated COVID-19 vaccine showed neutralizing activity against the Eris subvariant in a study conducted in mice.