COVID variant BA.2.86: What to know

August 29, 2023
face mask and hand sanitizer on wooden table

We don’t want to be sounding alarm bells over a variant that is just as likely to die out as it is to become the next big thing. If we did that for every single variant we’d be sounding alarm bells every single day.

Professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, David Dowdy, on a new Covid variant that some scientists believe could be worth keeping a close eye on.

Why It Matters: Covid variant BA.2.86 – also referred to as "pirola" – has only been detected in about a 12 people. However, these infections have been detected in multiple countries across the world. Because this variant contains more mutations on the spike protein, it could potentially evade current vaccines and boosters as well as immunity from past infections more easily, scientists say. While there currently remains many unknowns, such as if the variant will cause more severe disease and how fast it could spread, doctors are keeping tabs on this strain. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, "At this point, there is no evidence that this variant is causing more severe illness. That assessment may change as additional scientific data are developed."

Something To Consider: One virologist out of Seattle explains that "the evolutionary jump of BA.2.86 is similar to that of the original Omicron, which burst onto the scene in the winter of 2021, resulting in a spike in infections," according to The Wall Street Journal.

Big Picture: Covid hospitalizations have increased by about 18% in the last fully measured week (August 13 to August 19), according to the CDC. While cases are increasing, public health officials have said that recent increases in hospitalizations are "still relatively small” and that most people who are sick are experiencing mild symptoms similar to the flu or a cold (The New York Times).

This Fall’s Covid Variant Might Really Be Different

Risk Assessment Summary for SARS CoV-2 Sublineage BA.2.86

by Jenna Lee,