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CDC announces new variant of COVID-19 with so far low public health risk

Rebecca Barnabi
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The Centers for Disease Control reports a new variant of COVID-19 called BA.2.87.1, which appears to be creating a low public health risk at this time.

CDC continues to monitor the new variant closely and will update as more information is available.

The new Omicron variant has been detected nine times in the Republic of South Africa. The viruses came from specimens collected from September to December 2023 and were posted to a public database on January 31, 2024. As of February 8, no clinical cases of BA.2.87.1 have been identified in the United States or anywhere outside of South Africa.

CDC is monitoring sequences from patient cases and other surveillance systems that include incoming international travelers and wastewater. The fact that only nine cases have been detected in one country since the first specimen was collected in September suggests it does not appear to be highly transmissible so far.

CDC is closely tracking BA.2.87.1 because it has more than 30 changes in the spike protein of the virus when compared to XBB.1.5, the variant that the updated (2023-2024) vaccine is designed to protect against. The spike protein is what our immune system targets when a virus enters our bodies. Our immune systems are primed to protect us through immunity gained from vaccines and previous infections. In theory, variants with multiple changes in the spike protein could increase the possibility of escape from this immunity.

In the past year, several variants have had significant changes in their spike protein. Despite the changes, existing immunity from vaccines and previous infections still provides good protection. We do not yet know how well existing immunity holds up against BA.2.87.1. However, our immune systems now have several years of experience with the COVID-19 virus and vaccines, generally providing protection against a wide range of variants.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.