WHO declares COVID-19 variant from India 'variant of concern'

A more transmissible COVID-19 variant that first emerged in India, known as B.1.617, is now a global "variant of concern," the World Health Organization said during a May 10 news conference.

WHO previously listed the variant as a "variant of interest." The elevated classification to one of concern indicates the variant is more contagious, causes more severe illness, and more resistant to preventive measures, vaccines or therapeutics, according to the agency

The WHO issued a follow-up statement after the news conference in response to some media outlets misinterpreting information about the strain evading vaccine protection, clarifying that "COVID-19 vaccines remain effective at preventing disease and death in people infected with this variant," based on current data. 

Preliminary studies have shown B.1.617, which has three sublineages, to be more transmissible, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead for the WHO's COVID-19 response, said during the news conference, CNBC reports. 

"As such, we are classifying this as a variant of concern at the global level," Dr. Van Kerkhove said. "Even though there is increased transmissibility demonstrated by some preliminary studies, we need much more information about this virus variant in this lineage in all of the sublineages, so we need more sequencing, targeted sequencing to be done," adding that additional information about the variant would be released May 11 as part of the WHO's weekly pandemic situation report.

The WHO's other "variants of concern" are B.1.1.7, which emerged in the U.K., B.1.351, first detected in South Africa, and P.1., which was first identified in Brazil. 

The global reclassification of the B.1.617 variant, which has spread to the U.S., was not reflected by the CDC as of May 10. The CDC currently classifies the strain as a "variant of interest" in the U.S. 


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