Looks like the “Stealth Variant” might be worth a closer look.  BA.2, an Omicron mutant,  reveals strong signs of out-competing BA.1 in countries where the mutant has been identified.  The most dramatic example is in Denmark.  It’s quickly displacing BA.1 (Omicron).   The mutant, not yet classified as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO), spreads in South Africa and Sweden, India, Norway, and others.  At first many appear to have discounted the media reports hyping this sub-variant up.  However, it’s proving to be more than just your typical sub-variant based on widening distribution. Hopefully France’s Health Minister’s assessment is correct: that it’s not a “game changer.” Yet if it continues to expand that assessment could change. And just recently the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) designated BA.2 as a variant under investigation (VUI).

Profile as of January 23, 2022

With investigations to better understand precise characteristics of BA.2 this variant becomes dominant in not only Denmark but also Sweden and India.  Many authorities downplay this mutant. For example, Olivier Veran, France’s Health Minister, recently went on the record that BA.2 is no “game changer.”

With a nickname of “Omicron’s little brother” the mutant was first identified in both India and South Africa by the end of 2021. Thus far experts believe the variant evolved from Omicron (BA.1) which was a Delta mutant. In a technical briefing document the UKHSA identified up to 28 mutations.

Health authorities such as the World Health Organization (WHO) presently exclude this pathogen from the variant of concern category but recognize that the mutant must be closely tracked.  How resistant is BA.2 to the current batch of vaccines on the market?  No accurate and comprehensive data exists yet to determine.Subscribe to the Trialsitenews “COVID-19” ChannelNo spam – we promise

The UK’s UKHSA made the move to formally identify as a VUI, yet according to the UKHSA website “To date there have been 426 cases of Omicron BA.2 confirmed by Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS), with the earliest dated 6 December 2021.

Signals of Concern?

Again, while France’s Health Minister downplays any concern, and undoubtedly with mounting political and social pressure to transcend the pandemic authorities are erring on the side of caution. Regardless, some data points do raise some concern.

The first indication of possible concern is the displacement of BA.1 which may indicate higher transmissibility.  The second concern is that the number of mutations in BA.2 is 28 compared to the base Omicron.  That’s a very large number of mutations. Many more than the number of mutations that caused Alpha, Beta, Delta, and others to be called new variants rather than just sub-variants.  It’s not clear why BA.2 is just being referred to as a sub-variant with that many mutations.  Many virologists are calling for it to be named a new variant. 

Thus far no indication of change in virulence.  Early anecdotal reports suggest that it seems like Omicron.  However, there are also anecdotal reports that recovered Omicron patients are sick again in South Africa.  This is causing concern that there is immune escape with BA.2.  This is very early anecdotal reports and TrialSite cannot determine relevance as of yet.

However, with up to 28 mutations, this mutation could cause a degree of immune escape.  Some experts speculate that it’s unlikely that this mutant would reinfect so quickly in large numbers though.  Those recovered patients’ AB titers should still be sufficient to provide protection even if there is immune escape–like the current approach in places like the United States and Israel—recommendation of booster vaccine every 3-plus months.

Call to Action: Check out the website CoVariants for tracking emerging variants and sub-variants, and even more refined variants called sub-variants.

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