Understanding the COVID variants

Southwest Utah Public Health Depart reported 3,270 new COVID cases in Iron County between Jan. 7-13 which is almost double the infection rate of the previous week. With the increase of transmission at the start of the spring semester, many students are worried they will test positive for one of the new variants of COVID.  An explanation for the rise in cases could be that Iron County was exposed to the two new variants of COVID: omicron and delta. 

Recently, a South African lab discovered a mutated form of the COVID virus called omicron. According to the Washington Post, omicron contains a high number of mutations that allow it to avoid the body’s immune defenses. Furthermore, the data from the CDC shows that omicron has accounted for 95% of COVID-related infections since the beginning of 2022. 

According to the World Health Organization, when a virus changes significantly from its original form, it is considered a new variant. The Centers for Disease Control, The World Health Organization, as well as associated partners, authorities and institutions monitor and access viruses and variants. These organizations classify variants into four categories: Variants Being Monitored, Variants of Interest, Variants of High Consequence and Variants of Concern. 

VBMs are categorized as variants that show there is a clear impact on authorized medical countermeasures, are associated with a harsher severity of disease or show an increase in transmissibility. These variants do not present a clear danger to public health since VBMs are either no longer present or are circulating at low levels.  

VOIs are variants that contain specific genetic markers that are correlated with effects to transmission, reduced efficacy of antibodies created through vaccination, increased disease severity and so on. So far, there are currently no VOIs that concern health organizations. 

VOHCs indicate clear evidence that preventive measures or medical countermeasures for existing variants resulted in a significant reduction in effectiveness to previous variants. Evidence of VOHCs are seen in a severe reduction in vaccine effectiveness by new variants disproportionately affecting vaccinated people. So far, health organizations are not monitoring any known VOHC. 

VOCs exhibit evidence that the variant increases transmissibility of the virus as well as the severity in the disease which could relate to an increase in hospitalizations and deaths. These variants reduce the efficacy of antibodies created by vaccines as well as diagnoses. VOCs that are currently being monitored by health organizations are delta and omicron.

For more information on how variants are affected by vaccines and masks check out the CDC’s website.

Article by: Danielle Meuret 


Photo by Fusion Medical Animation on Unsplash