What to Know About the New BA.2.12.1 Variant in the U.S.

Itt’s only been about six months since the Omicron variant emerged and changed the landscape of the pandemic, sending case-counts soaring and causing breakthrough infections even among those who were fully vaccinated and boosted. Researchers are still puzzled by the viral mutations, which seem to be happening almost at the same speed as their names.

Then came BA.2, the dominant Omicron descendent in the U.S. this spring. Now, another Omicron descendent known as BA.2.12.1 is accounting for a growing share of U.S. cases—about 36% of samples sequenced during the week ending April 30, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The average number of diagnoses per day has roughly doubled since April.

Other Omicron spinoffs are currently being spread in South Africa. They were initially identified in South Africa.

It takes time to understand the impact of emerging variants. In a April 27 report, the World Health Organization stated that while the Omicrons are spreading faster than BA.2, the Omicrons do not appear to have a greater impact on severe disease. CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently gave a similarly reassuring message to reporters, saying that—though more research is needed—“we continue to believe that those who are vaccinated, and especially those who are boosted, continue to have strong protection against severe disease, even from BA.2.12.1.”

However, a pair of preliminary, not-yet-peer-reviewed studies—one from China and one from South Africa—suggest these newer Omicron subvariants are better than earlier strains at evading the immunity offered by vaccines and prior infections. That means even people who caught the original Omicron strain could be at risk of reinfection—but, as former U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb tweeted yesterdayOnly those who have been fully vaccinated Recent COVID-19 protection seemed stronger.

It’s not surprising that the virus continues to mutate; scientists have long predicted that would be the case. It should serve as a reminder to everyone that there are many turns and twists in the pandemic. It is possible to change everything we know about this virus, and our immunity. It takes only a new version.

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