The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated Wednesday the new BA.2.86 COVID-19 lineage may cause infection in people who received vaccines or previously had the virus.
The CDC said it is too soon to know whether this might cause more severe illness compared with previous variants. But due to the high number of mutations detected in this lineage, there were concerns about its impact on immunity from vaccines and previous infections, the agency said.
“The large number of mutations in this variant raises concerns of greater escape from existing immunity from vaccines and previous infections compared with other recent variants,” the CDC stated in its assessment.
“For example, one analysis of mutations suggests the difference may be as large as or greater than that between BA.2 and XBB.1.5, which circulated nearly a year apart.”
But it said that “virus samples are not yet broadly available for more reliable laboratory testing of antibodies, and it is too soon to know the real-world impacts on immunity.”
The agency added that it detected at least two cases with the BA.2.86 variant in the United States, although few other details were provided. It was also found in Israel, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Denmark, the agency said.
One of the BA.2.86 cases was found in a person detected via the CDC’s traveler surveillance system, while it added that cases being found in several countries is evidence of international transmission.
“Notably, the amount of genomic sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 globally has declined substantially from previous years, meaning more variants may emerge and spread undetected for longer periods of time,” according to the assessment.
“It is also important to note that the current increase in hospitalizations in the United States is not likely driven by the BA.2.86 variant. This assessment may change as additional data become available.”
The CDC noted that most of the U.S. population has COVID-19 antibodies from a previous infection, vaccination, or both. It’s likely that the antibodies will provide some protection against the variant, said the CDC.
The CDC said on Wednesday the slight recent increase in hospitalizations in the United States is not likely driven by the BA.2.86 lineage.
Based on an analysis of the mutations to the new virus, the CDC stated that COVID-19 tests and antiviral drugs are likely still going to work against it. “At this time, we don’t know how well this variant spreads, but we know that it spreads in the same way as other variants,” the CDC said.
A top official with the World Health Organization, meanwhile, has designated the BA.2.86 as a “variant under monitoring,” noting that there is “limited” information about the variant.
A medical worker prepares the COVID-19 vaccination after the thawing stage outside of UCI Medical Center, in Orange, Calif., on Dec. 16, 2020. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
But some scientists warned that people shouldn’t jump to conclusions about the variant.
“Intrinsic severity of a virus is a byproduct of many traits, a product of selection on other features. Any attempt to guess the intrinsic severity of BA.2.86 (within reasonable parameters) is just that—a guess,” Aris Katzourakis, a biologist with the University of Oxford, wrote on social media.
“It is far, far too early to evaluate the potential of this variant.”
Michael Osterholm, the head of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, told Stat News that the new subvariant should be monitored closely but he noted that a large number of subvariants and variants of COVID-19 didn’t take off.
“I assume that all are innocent until proven guilty,” he said,
And based on the evidence so far, the threat of BA.2.86 isn’t clear, said a CDC spokesperson. “We do not yet know what risks, if any, this may pose to the public’s health beyond what has been seen with other currently circulating lineages,” the spokesperson told EveryDay Health.
The CDC statement comes as Moderna, Pfizer, and Novavax are slated to release updated COVID-19 vaccines this fall, again possibly making them available for all ages. There is anticipation that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration will authorize the booster shots in the coming weeks.
It also comes as a small number businesses, schools, offices, and hospitals in recent days opted to re-implement mask mandates. A college in Atlanta, Hollywood studio Lionsgate, several hospitals, and others recently made masks mandatory, sparking concerns among some social media users that a broader attempt to re-instate mandates might be coming to the United States in the fall or winter.
“Employees must wear a medical grade face covering (surgical mask, KN95 or N95) when indoors except when alone in an office with the door closed, actively eating, actively drinking at their desk or workstation, or if they are the only individual present in a large open workspace,” a Lionsgate manager wrote in a memo, according to Deadline Hollywood.
The mandate was implemented even as the local Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reported that for COVID-19, “overall metrics remain at a low level of concern.”