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JN.1 Alert – WHO’s Assessment Of A New COVID Variant Raises Concerns

COVID Variant Raises

The World Health Organization (WHO) made a significant announcement on Tuesday, elevating the status of the new COVID-19 variant, JN.1, to a “variant of interest.” This decision was prompted by the rapid global spread of the strain. Health officials, however, have been cautious in stating that, so far, JN.1 has not demonstrated different or more severe symptoms compared to earlier variants.

Despite the reassurance about symptom severity, the WHO expressed concern about the “rapidly increasing spread” of JN.1 globally, prompting the decision to separate it from its predecessor, BA.2.86.

JN.1 is closely related to BA.2.86, a highly mutated strain that initially raised concerns among scientists. Back in August, BA.2.86 was designated a “variant of interest” by the WHO. The term “variant of interest” sits below the more alarming “variant of concern,” which would assign a new Greek letter nickname, similar to Delta or Omicron. Thus far, the WHO has refrained from upgrading any new variants to “concern” status since the original Omicron variants in 2021.

According to the WHO, a “variant of interest” triggers intensified investigations by countries involving laboratory studies and field investigations of outbreaks. The criteria for this classification include genetic changes known to impact key virus characteristics and the potential to pose an “emerging risk to global public health.”

The CDC, responsible for classifying variants based on risk specifically to Americans, has not yet labeled JN.1 as a “variant of interest.”

Despite these developments, health officials assert that the symptoms associated with JN.1 seem to align with those seen in other strains of the virus. The CDC and the WHO both report no indication of increased severity from JN.1 at this time. However, the WHO suggests that JN.1’s mutations could give it an advantage in evading the body’s immune defenses, potentially accelerating infections.

Estimates from the CDC indicate that JN.1 is currently the fastest-growing strain in the United States, constituting more than 20% of cases nationwide. It is on track to become the dominant variant. This surge occurs amid ongoing elevated COVID-19 trends in the U.S., with some regions experiencing a rise in emergency room visits not seen since last year.

The CDC reassures that the updated COVID-19 vaccines for this season are expected to enhance protection against JN.1, as well as other variants. However, early studies suggest lower “cross neutralization,” indicating a potential challenge for vaccine effectiveness against JN.1.

Despite this, a WHO panel decided against recommending changes to the current vaccine recipe, emphasizing that existing vaccines are likely to be effective against JN.1, even with reduced neutralization.

The U.S. ranks second, after France, in reporting the largest share of JN.1 sequences to the global virus database GISAID, according to the WHO.

As the situation unfolds, ongoing monitoring and research will play a crucial role in understanding the implications of the JN.1 variant and refining public health responses.