COVID-19: new omicron BA.2 variant signals caution

The WHO alerted the public to a new version of Omicron, BA. 2, following its predecessor, Omicron BA.1.


The WHO alerted the public to a new version of Omicron, BA. 2, following its predecessor, Omicron BA.1.

“The BA. 2 descendant lineage, which differs from BA.1 in some of the mutations, including in the spike protein, is increasing in many countries. Investigations into the characteristics of BA. 2, including immune escape properties and virulence, should be prioritized independently (and comparatively) to BA. 1,” the WHO said.

Because of its evasiveness, some researchers are referring to BA. 2 as the “stealth omicron” because its genetic traits are more difficult to identify by polymerase chain reaction testing.

The new version was first recognized in India and South Africa in late December 2021, and thus far has been making its way around the world successfully, although not yet to the degree of its parent.

To now it has been seen in Asia and Europe, mostly in Denmark possibly because of the country’s robust sequencing program, where it is accounting for 45% of cases; the UK reported that BA. 2 currently makes up about 5% of the country’s COVID-19 cases.

A spattering of cases has been identified in the US in Houston and New York.

There is not a lot of reliable information about this new variant, which is precisely why it deserves attention, according to James Musser, director of the Center for Molecular and Translational Human Infectious Diseases Research at Houston Methodist.

He pointed out that Omicron “can clearly evade preexisting immunity,” but as of now it is unknown if BA. 2 is better at getting around the vaccines.

What is clear is that this variant is highly transmissible but a great deal of research is needed to ferret out more information.

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