JUN 05, 2021 7:33 AM PDT

Newly-Named Coronavirus Variant Causes Concern

WRITTEN BY: Carmen Leitch

The World Health Organization (WHO) has decided to create a new naming system for coronavirus variants for several reasons. The names will now be based on the Greek alphabet. A chart has been developed to educate people about which variants have what names, and when they emerged. WHO has grouped the variants into two categories: Variants of Concern, which have either increased the virulence or transmissibility of the virus and disrupted public health measures like diagnostics or treatment, while the Variants of Interest category includes variants that have caused community transmission but haven't necessarily been harder to contain. The table regarding Variants of Concern is recapitulated below.

Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell (green) heavily infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (purple), isolated from a patient sample. Image captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF) in Fort Detrick, Maryland. / Credit: NIAID

Hopefully, this will help clear up confusion about the variants. Using their genomic designations can be cumbersome and especially confusing to people that aren't used to that kind of nomenclature.

“It is a lot easier for a radio newsreader to say ‘Delta’ than 'bee one six one seven two,'” Jeffrey Barrett, a statistical geneticist who leads SARS-CoV-2-sequencing efforts at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in the UK told Nature. “So I’m willing to give it a try to help it take off.”

While geographic descriptors are not traditionally controversial, in the modern world we know that they can lead to stigmatization, stereotypes, and other social problems. There is even some evidence that countries that discover new variants within their borders are reluctant to share the information because of the potential fallout.

“I can understand why people just call it ‘the South African variant’ — they don’t mean anything by it,” Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist at the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa commented to Nature. “The problem is, if we allow it to continue, there are people who have an agenda and will use it.”

The Delta variant, first identified in India, now seems to be posing a major problem for several countries where it's been detected. Vietnam, for example, is now grappling with its most serious COVID outbreak since the start of the pandemic, and the delta variant is also being blamed for a sharp uptick of cases in England.

A recent study suggested that only one dose of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine was 17 percent less effective against the Delta variant compared to Alpha (B.1.1.7) based on lab and real-world studies. But, two doses still seemed to provide good protection against the Delta variant.

As the virus continues to spread, it will have more chances to mutate into more variants, highlighting the need to vaccination campaigns worldwide.

Sources: WHO, Nature

About the Author
  • Experienced research scientist and technical expert with authorships on over 30 peer-reviewed publications, traveler to over 70 countries, published photographer and internationally-exhibited painter, volunteer trained in disaster-response, CPR and DV counseling.
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