The World Health Organization (WHO) raised the status of the Corona BA.2.86 variant from the ‘Variant of Interest’ (VoI) group to ‘Variant under Monitoring’, even though the risk of this variant is said to be low.
So if the risk of fatality in the spread of this Corona variant is nothing to worry about, why has WHO updated its levels?
“We have seen a slow and steady increase in detection of this disease worldwide,” said WHO technical lead for COVID-19, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, quoted from CNN, Monday (4/12/2023).
“Characterizing it as a variant of interest really helps encourage surveillance of this type of variant worldwide and stimulates research,” he added, emphasizing that it is important to understand further whether the BA.2.86 variant causes more severe disease or is able to evade immunity.
BA.2.86, which some virus observers have nicknamed Pirola, has very different genetics from previous viruses that cause COVID-19. Because this variant has more than 30 mutations in its spike protein, scientists are worried that the virus will overcome vaccination immunity and infection, triggering a new wave of COVID-19.
However, what is still a question mark for researchers is that the distribution of BA.2.86 has not developed like the first Omicron. Several studies show that as all new mutations develop, this variant loses some of its ability to infect human cells, so its growth slows down.
Computational virologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Dr. Jesse Bloom, said BA.2.86 continues to evolve and has the potential to create stronger offspring. According to him, referring to research conducted by researchers at Columbia University and in China, it was found that the JN.1 variant has one change in the genetic code, which makes it better able to escape the body’s immune defenses.
“From a fitness perspective, what we see is that the JN.1 is increasing in numbers faster than its parent, the BA.2.86,” said Bloom.
“From a scientific standpoint, all of these variants are moving around, and I can see one of those families spreading. It’s hard to say what impact they will actually have on the number of COVID cases and the burden of COVID disease this winter,” he concluded.
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