A new contagious variant known as BA.2 has created a new wave of COVID-19 throughout the world. According to CNBC, the BA.2 variant is a mutation that stems off the omicron variant, also known as BA.1, and is 1.5 times more transmissible than the original omicron strain.
“Known as BA. 2, the new version of the virus is a descendant of the omicron variant responsible for huge surges of Ccovid-19 in the United States and elsewhere around the globe. Virologists are referring to the original omicron variant as BA. 1,” according to The Washington Post.
Right now, the BA.2 variant is not any more severe than the omicron strain it mutated form, explained by The Washington Post. In addition, there is no proven evidence to conclude that this strain is more severe or causes more immunity problems.
“Variants have come, variants have gone,” Robert Garry, a virologist at Tulane University School of Medicine, said in The Washington Post. “I don’t think there’s any reason to think this one is a whole lot worse than the current version of omicron.”
According to CNBC, BA.1 and BA.2 have many differences in their mutations. BA.2 has five mutations on a key part of its spike protein. This spike, known as the receptor-binding domain, is what causes BA.2 to have higher transmissibility. Even though this variant is more transmissible, it does not reduce the effectiveness of any type of vaccine.
“However, a preliminary assessment found that BA.2 doesn’t appear to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines any more than the original omicron,” CNBC said. “A booster dose was 70% effective at preventing symptomatic illness from BA.2 two weeks after receiving the shot, compared with 63% effectiveness for the original omicron strain.”
The first concern about new variants forming from Omicron, like BA.2, was brought up in November 2021 when researchers in South Africa found 53 mutations stemming from the omicron strain, according to The New York Times. Since Omicron carried unique mutations, scientists named these branches BA.1, BA.2, and BA.3.
“Within weeks of Omicron’s Emergence, however, researchers in South Africa started finding a few puzzling, Omicron-like variants,” The New York Times said. “The viruses shared some of Omicron’s distinctive mutations but lacked others. They also carried some unique mutations of their own.”
As stated by The New York Times, BA.2 has become more common in other countries recently. BA.2 now makes up 65 percent of new cases in Denmark as well as more cases rising in the United Kingdom since BA.2 is more transmissible than BA.1.
“The United Kingdom Health Security Agency identified more than 400 cases of BA. 2 in the first 10 days of January and on Friday designated BA. 2 a “virus under investigation,” according to Al Jazeera. The agency said BA. 2 has been identified in 40 countries and “there is still uncertainty around the significance of the changes to the viral genome,” The Washington Post said.
As for the United States, BA.2 has been confirmed to have made an appearance with at least 127 known cases, yet this variant is speculated to remain at lower levels in the U.S compared to other countries.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement Friday, said although BA.2 has increased in proportion to the original omicron strain in some countries, it is currently circulating at a low level in the U.S.,” CNBC said.
There is still information scientists do not know about this new variant BA.2, explained by the New York Times, but it is still likely that these cases will decrease due to more knowledge about the Omicron strain.
“It’s conceivable that BA.2 could lead to a new surge, but Dr. Grubaugh thinks it’s more likely that Covid cases will continue to decline in weeks to come,” The New York Times said. “It’s also possible that BA.2 may create a small bump on the way down, or simply slow the fall. Experiments on BA.1 now underway may help scientists sharpen their projections.”