Scientists across the world are worried about a new COVID-19 variant that could be more infectious and could evade vaccine immunity. The JN.1 strain of coronavirus has recently been detected in the United States and in 11 other countries, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This variant is causing a surge in infections worldwide yet again and raising alarm bells among health authorities.
According to experts, the new Covid variant is a descendant of BA.2.86, also known as ‘Pirola’ – which came from Omicron. “Neither JN.1 nor BA.2.86 is common in the United States right now. In fact, JN.1 has been detected so rarely that it makes up fewer than 0.1 percent of SARS-CoV-2 viruses,” CDC wrote on its site.
There is only a single change between JN.1 and BA.2.86 and that is in the spike protein. The spike protein – called a “spike” because it looks like tiny spikes on the virus’ surface – plays a crucial role in helping the virus infect people,” the CDC explained, adding, “Because of this, the spike protein is also the part of a virus that vaccines target, meaning vaccines should work against JN.1 and BA.2.86 similarly”.
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Further, it also said that nearly all viruses circulating in the United States now are part of the XBB family and that JN.1 makes up less than 0.1% of SARS-CoV-2 viruses. The initial data by the CDC also suggest that updated covid vaccines will help protect against BA.2.86, and it expects a similar effect against JN.1. It even stated that an analysis from the federal government’s SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group suggests treatments and testing will remain effective.
“For as long as we have COVID-19, we’ll have new variants. Nearly all represent relatively small changes compared with previous variants. CDC and other agencies monitor for impacts of new variants on vaccines, tests, and treatments, and will alert the public quickly if anything concerning is detected,” the CDC said, adding, “Most of the time, new variants make little to no impact”.
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