Diabetes Health Staff
We started out by taking a look at five variants of COVID-19. But, the current number of major variant “families” stands at 13. (If you name all sub-variants, that number will run into the dozens.)
That figure includes two new Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, first reported in early May.
Since viruses are not living things, they can change and evolve at lightning speed compared to the plodding evolution of living entities.
When an original virus-like COVID-19 replicates, its offspring may differ because of minor changes in the original virus’s DNA or RNA. When that happens, scientists label it as a mutation.
As mutations pile up, the viruses produced at this stage are labeled as variants. These variants can mimic the original virus’s symptoms but, in most cases, cannot duplicate the intense effects of full-blown COVID-19 cases.
The number of variants has increased throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. However, each variant has lost its power to infect and is succeeded by another variant.
Suppose a person is hospitalized or kept under close watch from COVID-19 and is re-infected with a COVID variant. In that case, the symptoms will not pose the same risks and dangers as the initial infection.
Today, that optimistic note might be tempered by the characteristics of Omicron BA.4 and BA reports.5: Scientists are concerned that out of all the COVID-19 variants so far observed, these two might be more potent and harder to fight than previous variants.
In 2021, the biggest worry in the medical community was the Delta variant. By the end of the year, it’s almost as though Delta flamed out and was no longer an object of great concern. (When scientists first saw COVID variations emerging, they used Greek alphabet letters to designate them.: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta.)
The strongest and most worrisome variant is Omicron, which has produced x variants since its appearance in late 2021. The first manifestation of Omicron, called BA.1*, took little time to evolve into more and more variants.
Variants’ Effects on Vaccination
Although it is a member of the COVID family, each new variant of Omicron is not treatable by the original vaccines introduced in early 2021. Two problems quickly became apparent.
1.) Each variant was not quite treatable by the first vaccines because of their altered structure.
2.) First seen as providing permanent protection against COVID, the vaccines themselves began losing effectiveness after a few months.
The pharmaceutical companies have raced to produce an anti-variant vaccine as quickly as possible, realizing that each new vaccine may only be effective for a few months. Fortunately, immunity to at least COVID-19, Alpha, and Delta have grown among the US population. The CDC estimates that 93 percent of Americans now carry COVID antibodies. That figure results from natural immunity at the start of the pandemic and vaccine-induced immunity later on.
Vaccines for COVID-19 effectively dealt with the Alpha and Delta variants (90 and 92 percent, respectively), but only 56 percent with Omicron. The vaccines still offer protection against Omicron, lessening the effects of COVID on persons who come down with it.
The CDC notes that the two new Omicron variants, BA.4 and BA.5, do not seem to be thwarted or blunted by natural immunity.)
What Does BA Stand for in Variant Names?
COVID’s variants are each assigned an alphanumeric name. In Omicron’s case, it’s B.1.1.529. But as variants stack up, those designations become unwieldy. So B.1.1.529 (the 529th descendent of B, the first COVID variant) is easier to deal with if the designation is simplified to BA.1. The next is BA.2, then BA.3, and now BA.4 and BA.5.
In the case of the Delta variant, researchers originally named it B.1.617.2 but soon realized how confusing that designation was. So they gave it an “alias,” AY.1, AY.2, etc.
Unity Point Health