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BA.2.86: Its Impact and What's Known so Far, per the CDC

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Though the CDC reported BA.2.86 was detected in only five different countries as of last week, new reports claim more cases of the variant have been detected in the U.S. and other countries within the last few days.

Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified a new SARS-CoV-2 variant, BA.2.86, which is identified as notable, according to the CDC, because it has multiple genetic differences from previous versions of SARS-CoV-2, such as the Omicron variant.

Detected globally in countries such as Denmark, South Africa, Israel, United States and United Kingdom, as of Aug. 23 by the CDC, BA.2.86 follows another newly discovered variant, EG.5. This variant had a rapid spread in over 50 countries by early- to mid-August.

Though the CDC reported BA.2.86 was detected in only five different countries as of last week, new reports claim more cases of the variant have been detected in the U.S. and other countries within the last few days.

Detection also comes at a time where COVID hospitalizations have been on the rise for the last couple of months, which has led to the reintroduction of mask mandates in select organizations and schools.

The CDC stated the recent surge in hospitalizations in the U.S. isn't necessarily attributable to the BA.2.86 variant, though further research is needed to make that decision.

The CDC's surveillance mechanisms have been successful in detecting and analyzing the BA.2.86 variant, according to their recent Risk Assessment Summary of this variant. In fact, a U.S. wastewater sample that was collected as part of routine monitoring in the National Wastewater Surveillance System (NWSS) detected the first presence of BA.2.86.

In terms of testing and treatment, the CDC reported that COVID tests and currently available treatments like Paxlovid, Veklury, and Lagevrio remain effective against the variant.

However, an area of concern has risen more specifically in individuals who have previously been infected with COVID or have received vaccines, as the CDC shared in the Risk Assessment that BA.2.86 may be more capable of causing infection in people who have previously had the virus or who have received COVID-19 vaccines.

Though the CDC stated that nearly all the U.S. population has antibodies to COVID from vaccination, previous infection, or both, and it is likely that these antibodies will continue to provide some protection against severe disease from this variant.

The CDC suggests that it is too early to detect the severity and how transmissible the variant is compared to previous variants.

Regarding further protection, scientists are evaluating the effectiveness of updated COVID vaccines, in which the CDC’s current assessment summarizes the updated vaccines will be effective at reducing severe disease and hospitalization.

The Food and Drug Administration and the CDC have claimed the Biden administration is planning on a mid-September rollout of the updated vaccines by Moderna, Pfizer and Novavax.

In a time of dynamic change, the BA.2.86 variant serves as a reminder of the virus's adaptability. Vigilant monitoring, research, and collaboration between health organizations and governments will be pivotal in navigating the ongoing challenges posed by emerging variants.

While the world awaits the rollout of updated vaccines and further monitoring and research of emerging variants, the CDC urges adherence to public health guidelines remains crucial in containing the virus and safeguarding communities.

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