New data on BA.2.86: What to know

New lab data suggests COVID-19 variant BA.2.86 — a distant omicron relative that has been making headlines over the past few weeks because of its large number of mutations — may not be as transmissible or immune-evasive as experts initially believed, CNN reported Sept. 4.

"Two independent labs have basically shown that BA.2.86 essentially is not a further immune escape compared with current variants," Dan Barouch, MD, PhD, director of the center for virology and vaccine research at Boston-based Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, told the news outlet. 

The lab tests showed people who had been vaccinated with monovalent shots, had gotten bivalent vaccines or who had recently been infected with an XBB variant were able to neutralize the strain as well as or a bit better than other circulating variants. In both lab studies, people with the highest degree of immunity against BA.2.86 were those who had recently recovered from an XBB infection, suggesting updated shots slated to roll out soon will be effective against it. 

A limitation of the studies is that researchers were testing pseudoviruses, or models of BA.2.86, rather than the virus itself. Still, with the results all being similar so far, experts say it is reassuring to see the strain may not be as concerning as once thought, given the strain has more than 30 mutations in the spike protein. 

The findings instead refocused attention on FL.1.5.1 as being the most immune-evasive XBB relative. That strain accounts for about 15 percent of U.S. cases. "If there wasn't so much hype about BA.2.86, that would actually be the focus of the paper," Dr. Barouch told CNN

Read more about BA.2.86 here


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