As the coronavirus continues to evolve, a new highly contagious Omicron variant is appearing in India and other nations, including the United States, experts say.
This new mutation — dubbed BA.2.75 — is concerning scientists because it appears to spread fast, bypassing the protection offered by COVID-19 vaccines and immunity from previous infection, the Associated Press reported Monday.
But whether it can cause more serious disease than other forms of COVID-19 isn’t clear, the experts said.
“It’s still really early on for us to draw too many conclusions,” Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told the AP. “But it does look like, especially in India, the rates of transmission are showing kind of that exponential increase.”
Shishi Luo is head of infectious diseases for the company Helix, which supplies viral sequencing information to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Luo told the APthat seeing this new variant popping up around the world “is an early indication it is spreading.”
In addition to India and three recent cases in the United States, BA.2.75 has been detected in 10 other countries, including Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Experts worry that this variant can more easily bind to cells and evade the body’s protective antibodies. But vaccines and boosters are still the best defense against severe COVID-19, the news report noted.
“Some may say, ‘Well, vaccination and boosting hasn’t prevented people from getting infected.’ And, yes, that is true,” Binnicker told the AP. “But what we have seen is that the rates of people ending up in the hospital and dying have significantly decreased. As more people have been vaccinated, boosted or naturally infected, we are starting to see the background levels of immunity worldwide creep up.”
Reformulated vaccines that target more recent Omicron variants should be available in the United States this fall.
Find out more about COVID and its variants at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.