A small number of cases of BA.2.86 have been reported from different parts of the world, however, it is still unclear whether or not this strain is capable of rapid global dissemination.
This autumn, the next round of Covid booster shots will concentrate on the original Omicron and the previously dominant strain. The novel BA.2.86 type has attracted the attention of scientists all over the world because of the high mutation rate it displays. This means that the new Omicron looks considerably different from the old one.
Specialists have noted that BA.2.86 appears to be capable of avoiding the protection afforded by vaccines to some extent, despite the fact that its transmissibility is not yet fully known.
As evolutionary biologist and Fred Hutch Cancer Centre researcher Jesse Bloom put it, “We have not seen a new variant [in humans] with this many new spike mutations happening all at once since the emergence of the original Omicron.”
The spike protein is one of the three main portions of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and changes in this protein could make the virus more infectious to human cells.
Only a small number of instances of the recently found variant BA.2.86 have been reported thus far. This variant has been identified in at least one instance in Michigan, Denmark, Israel, and the United Kingdom, according to sequences given to GISAID, a global database of viruses.
On Thursday, the WHO designated BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring.” The term is used to describe variants with an excessive number of mutations, the propagation of which must be closely monitored.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also released a statement on Thursday saying that they were keeping an eye on the new virus strain but that their prior public health guidelines will remain the same.
If you look at the sequence, I think we can very safely predict that this [variant] is going to be relatively good at evading the antibodies that most people have from earlier infections and immunisations,” said Bloom. “What we still don’t know is whether or not this variant is good at transmitting enough that it will really be able to spread widely throughout the world.”
It is unclear, according to Dr. Dan Barouch, director of the Centre for Virology and Vaccine Research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, whether or not BA.2.86 possessed the traits essential to outcompete the current swarm of Omicron subvariants in the United States.
“It’s not even on the list of top 20 variants on the CDC tracker,” he said, implying that this is not a common mutation. Twenty per cent of all cases in the United States continue to be attributable to EG.5, an offshoot of Omicron that has been called “Eris” by some medical professionals on social media. Prior to then, XBB.1.5 was the most prevalent variety, and it is this strain that Moderna and Pfizer are working to eradicate.