You might have heard the term COVID-19 variant on the news but, what exactly is a COVID-19 variant?
Variants are mutations occurring in the virus. Mutations are when the virus develops at least one new change from the original strain. Viruses like the SARS-CoV-2 change over time. The changes may affect the properties like infection rates, transmission rates, and the effectiveness of vaccines on the virus.
What are the Different Classifications of Variants?
According to a paper published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention: there are different classifications of the SARS-CoV-2 these are:
1. Variants Being Monitored (VBM) These variants are classified to have data indicating a potential or apparent impact on treatment or have been associated with more severe disease or increased transmission but are no longer detected or are circulating at low levels, and as a result, is NOT an imminent risk to the public. (California Department of Public Health, 2021)
2. Variants of Interest (VOI) These variants have specific genetic markers that are, associated with receptor binding changes, reduced antibody neutralization (from past infection or vaccination), or increase in transmissibility or disease severity. According to the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC), for a variant to become a VOI, it must undergo enhanced sequence surveillance, enhanced laboratory characterizations, and epidemiological investigations to see how the virus spreads to others, the seriousness of the diseases, the efficacy of vaccines.
3. Variant of Concern (VOC) Variants classified as VOC have evidence of an increase in transmissibility, severe diseases, a significant number of reduced antibody neutralization (from past infection or vaccination), or reduced vaccine efficacy. For a variant to be considered a VOC, one or more public actions must be done such as notifying the proper health officials, local and regional efforts to control the spread, increased testing, and research to determine the effectiveness of vaccines and possible treatments to combat the variant. (Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, 2021)
4. Variant of High Consequence (VOHC) VOHC variants have clear evidence that medical countermeasures (MCM) are ineffective or have significantly reduced effectiveness. VOHC variants would require notification from the World Health Organization (WHO) under the International Health Regulations, strategy announcements to prevent transmission, and vaccines and treatment recommendations. (American College of Emergency Physicians, 2021)
The CDC has sorted the different variants into their respective categories. (Data from the recently updated article of the CDC)
Variants being Monitored (VBM): Alpha Variant (B.1.1.7) Originally found in the United Kingdom. Previously known as the first Variant Under Investigation. The alpha variant had been detected in 120 countries.
Beta Variant (B.1.351) First detected in South Africa, this variant is prevalent among young people with no underlying health conditions.
Epsilon Variant (B.1.427) and (B.1.429) Originally found in the United States, the Epsilon variant has an increase in transmission by 20%.
Gamma Variant (P.1) Detected in Tokyo, Japan.
ETA (B.1.525) This variant does not carry the same mutations found in the Alpha, Beta, and Gamma variants. This variant was first detected in the UK and Nigeria.
Lota Variant (B.1.526) It was first detected in New York City in November 2020. The two significant mutations this variant has are the E484K and the S477N mutations, which help the virus evade antibodies and may help the virus bind more tightly to human cells, respectively.
Kappa Variant (B.1.617.1) First detected in India. This variant has accounted for more than half of the sequences being transmitted from India.
Mu (B.1.621) Variant This variant’s mutations indicate a risk of resistance to vaccines. It was first detected in Colombia.
Zeta Variant (P.2) The Zeta Variant was first detected in Rio de Janeiro.
Variant of Interest (VOI): Lamba Variant (C.37) Detected in Peru and has spread to at least 30 countries around the world.
Variants of Concern (VOC): Delta Variant (B.1.6717.2) Currently the most dominant variant in the world. It was first discovered in India and has spread to at least 185 countries.
Omicron Variant (B.1.1.529) The newest variant for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It was first detected in South Africa. Evidence that the mutations of this variant can cause an increased risk of reinfection.
The numerous COVID-19 variants are still prevalent even today. The decrease in the number of active COVID-19 cases in your area is not the sign to become complacent. Continue to follow proper COVID-19 procedures:
1. Get vaccinated. 2. Get tested. 3. Social distance yourself from others when outside. 4. Wear facemasks 5. Wash your hands with soap or alcohol.
As we continue to face COVID-19 and its various mutations, active detection, and isolation of positive cases in our country are more imperative than ever.