According to the reports in the media, in a recent update, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports a threefold increase in cases of the Omicron BA.2.86 COVID-19 variant, widely known as Pirola, over a two-week period. The variant now constitutes 5 per cent to 15 per cent of all infections, particularly prevalent in the US northeast, where it ranks as the second most common variant at 13 per cent, following HV.1, the reports in the media added.
Reportedly, on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) elevated Pirola to the status of a "variant of interest," marking a significant upgrade from its previous designation as a "variant under monitoring" back in August. This categorisation places Pirola alongside four other variants, reflecting its growing impact.
Despite its rising presence, the CDC reassures the public that BA.2.86 is not currently leading to an increase in infections or hospitalisations in the United States. Both the CDC and WHO assess the public health risk associated with this variant as low when compared to other circulating variants.
The media reports further stated that the updated COVID-19 vaccines, FDA-approved in September, are believed to enhance protection against BA.2.86, similar to their effectiveness against other variants. Richard Reithinger, PhD, a distinguished research fellow in the Global Health Division at International Development Group in Washington, DC, highlighted the effectiveness of existing vaccines in protecting individuals, especially those who have received multiple boosts through vaccination or natural infection. These vaccines not only guard against symptomatic infection but also play a crucial role in preventing severe disease, hospitalisation, and death.
The CDC notes that it remains unclear if BA.2.86 causes different symptoms, as most variants tend to produce similar effects, the media reports said. Severity often depends more on a person's immunity than the specific variant. Furthermore, the variant is expected to be detectable by current tests and responsive to existing treatments.
While the pandemic has been officially declared over, COVID-19 continues to be a concern. Reithinger emphasised the potential of BA.2.86 to evade immune responses due to its 35 spike protein mutations. However, early clinical data does not suggest that this is currently occurring, the reports in the media added.