COVID-19 Variants Explained

Laboratory team during coronavirus lab tests. Wearing protective masks and caps. Looking at COVID-19 virus data on computer screens.

It’s normal for viruses to mutate or change as time goes on. In some instances, a variant (the term for a new mutation) appears and then quickly disappears. In other cases, a variant continues to be found within a population. 

The virus that causes COVID-19 has changed multiple times, with four variants of concern (which are given both an alphanumeric identifier and a letter from the Greek alphabet as a nickname) currently being monitored by health professionals in the U.S.

They are:

  • B.1.1.7 (the “Alpha” variant): Scientists first observed this variant in the U.S. in December 2020. It was initially found in the United Kingdom and seems to have a 50% increase in transmission rate compared to previous circulating variants. This variant also may create an increased risk of hospitalization and death.
  • B.1.351 (Beta): Health experts first found this variant in the U.S. in late January 2021. It was initially detected in South Africa in December 2020. It appears to spread approximately 50% more easily than previous circulating variants. It also reduces how well some monoclonal antibody medications and the antibodies generated by a previous COVID-19 infection or COVID-19 vaccine work.
  • P.1 (Gamma): First found in the U.S. in January 2021, the Gamma variant was initially detected in January 2021 in travelers from Brazil during routine screening at an airport in Japan. It reduces the effectiveness of certain monoclonal antibody medications and the antibodies generated by a previous COVID-19 infection or a COVID-19 vaccine.
  • B.1.617.2 (Delta): Health experts first detected the Delta variant in the U.S. in March 2021 after it was initially identified in India in December 2020. It’s currently the most common variant in the U.S. Researchers have found that it spreads easily in indoor public gatherings and households. This variant also may inhibit the effectiveness of some monoclonal antibody treatments and the antibodies generated by a COVID-19 vaccine.

In addition to the four variants of concern, the World Health Organization has identified four variants of interest, which they are calling: Eta, Iota, Kappa, and Lambda. Research on these variants is ongoing. But because they spread more rapidly than other variants, they might produce an increase in the rate of COVID-19 illness, hospitalizations, and possibly deaths. 

In addition, the faster spread of these variants may result in healthcare resources in the U.S. being strained, which can lead to other problems in the healthcare system. 


Don’t take a chance with your health.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to prevent COVID-19 infection and end the pandemic. The vaccine cannot give you COVID-19, but it can help protect you from serious illness. Learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and make a vaccination appointment at a location near you. 


Are Healthcare Officials Concerned About These Variants?

Healthcare officials are closely monitoring these variants. Any virus that spreads more quickly than its predecessors is a concern. 

Fortunately, the combination of getting a COVID-19 vaccine and the virus prevention practices we’re all familiar with — frequent handwashing, avoiding crowds, maintaining a safe distance from people who aren’t in your household, wearing a mask where appropriate — can help minimize your risk of contracting one of the variants and developing a serious illness. 

Are the Current Vaccines Effective Against the Variants

Research on the variants continues as more data becomes available. However, it appears that the vaccines currently available in the U.S. help minimize the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death from the variants. Some of the treatments for those who have COVID-19 may not be as effective with the variants.

Will More Variants Develop?

It’s likely that the virus that causes COVID-19 will continue to mutate and produce new variants. The best way to minimize its ability to do that is to get vaccinated. As a larger percentage of the population gets vaccinated, the virus has fewer hosts in which to multiply unchecked and produce new variants. 

Take action to protect yourself and others from serious COVID-related illness. Make an appointment today to get vaccinated. 


Next Steps and Useful Resources:

Make a Vaccination Appointment
Delta Variant FAQ
Do I Need a COVID-19 Booster Shot?
Vaccine Hesitancy Explained

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