What is a variant?
Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus are expected to occur. If you think about a virus like a tree growing and branching out, each branch on the tree is slightly different than the others. By comparing the branches, scientists can label them according to the differences. These small differences, or variants, have been studied and identified since the beginning of the pandemic.
How do variants impact vaccine efficacy?
The COVID-19 vaccines that are currently in development or have been approved are expected to provide at least some protection against new virus variants because these vaccines elicit a broad immune response involving a range of antibodies and cells. Therefore, changes or mutations in the virus should not make vaccines completely ineffective. In the event that any of these vaccines prove to be less effective against one or more variants, it will be possible to change the composition of the vaccines to protect against these variants.
How are variants classified?
1. Variants of Interest: These have genetic markers that have been associated with higher risks of transmission, reinfection or severe illness, as well as reduced vaccine effectiveness.
2. Variants of Concern: There is evidence these are more likely to spread, cause reinfection or cause severe illness, as well as reduce vaccine effectiveness.
3. Variants of High Consequence: There is clear evidence that existing prevention tactics, including vaccination, are less effective against these variants.
How do variants impact transmissability?
These variants seem to spread more easily and quickly than other variants, which may lead to more cases of COVID-19. An increase in the number of cases will put more strain on healthcare resources, lead to more hospitalizations, and potentially more deaths.
Information about variants is constantly evolving and information is accurate to the time it was updated.