The CDC has taken the unusual step of sending a formal letter warning that a new strain of COVID-19 that was just discovered a week ago in the U.S. may be resistant to vaccines and natural immunity.
The strain, known as BA.2.86 and of special worry, has more than 30 mutations, which indicates that it may behave significantly differently from earlier viruses. According to the CDC’s risk assessment released on Wednesday, the number of mutations is comparable to the difference between variants that were so significant that they were given official names, such as between Delta and Omicron.
Health organizations all across the world are releasing a rush of updates on BA.2.86. When the strain was classified as a “variant under monitoring” on August 17, it was the first time the World Health Organization had heard of it. The moment it was discovered in the United States, the CDC made an announcement.
The CDC keeps an eye out for traits like a strain’s contagiousness, how well it reacts to medication, and how severely it affects people.
According to the CDC risk assessment, “BA.2.86 may be more likely to infect individuals who have already had COVID-19 or who have received COVID-19 vaccinations.”
The organization is assessing how effective the new vaccine will be against BA.2.86 when it is released in September.
According to a fresh prognosis the CDC also made public this week, the virus will likely cause further hospitalizations through at least mid-September. Currently, COVID-19 sends roughly 1,800 patients to the hospital every day. According to the latest forecast, that figure has a slight chance of falling as low as 1,100 per day while simultaneously having a minor chance of rising as much as 7,500 per day. By September 18, the most likely scenario places daily hospital admissions in the middle of that range, at between 2,000 and 4,000 patients.
Although there is “no evidence” that BA.2.86 is leading to more severe illness, the CDC warned that this could change as more data becomes available. Health professionals frequently use the number of COVID hospitalizations as a proxy for severity.
According to an article in the journal Nature, several scientists draw parallels between the appearance of BA.2.86 and the rapid global spread of Omicron in late 2021.
According to University of Michigan virologist Adam Lauring, MD, PhD, whose lab discovered one of the first instances of BA.2.86 in the United States, “there’s a little bit of déjà vu all over again.”
Lauring, the CDC, and the WHO all issue warnings that more information is required to fully comprehend the hazard posed by BA.2.86.
It’s still early, but there are excellent reasons to believe it won’t be as severe as the Omicron wave, Lauring said.