Facts on Covid Variant BA.2.86 'Pirola' spread and vaccine protection

Pirola, also known as BA.2.86, has emerged as the third most prevalent Covid strain in the United States, accounting for 8.8% of cases as of November 25. This is a significant increase compared to the previous two-week period when Pirola wasn't even among the top five most prevalent variants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that Pirola is circulating the most in the Northeast region, where it is the second most common variant after HV.1.

Pirola has recently been categorized as a "variant of interest" by the World Health Organization, indicating that it requires closer monitoring. However, the CDC has stated that the public health risk posed by this variant is low. Both Pfizer-BioNTech and Novavax have expressed confidence that their latest vaccines offer some protection against Pirola. Moderna's clinical trial data also suggests that its latest shot provides increased protection against the variant.

However, some experts are skeptical about the effectiveness of the new vaccines against Pirola and its subvariants. A study published on bioRxiv, which has not yet undergone peer review, suggests that the newer vaccines could potentially facilitate the spread of these newer Pirola viruses.

It is currently unknown whether Pirola causes different symptoms compared to other variants. Pirola belongs to the Omicron family and is a highly mutated offshoot of its parent variant, BA.2. JN.1, one of Pirola's mutations, has rapidly spread in other countries and was first detected in the U.S. in September. The CDC has confirmed its presence in at least 11 countries.

In terms of overall Covid statistics, the U.S. has seen an increase in hospitalizations and deaths in recent weeks. As of November 18, there were 18,119 hospitalizations, up almost 9% from the previous week, and 506 deaths, an 8.3% increase.

Overall, while there are concerns about the effectiveness of the new vaccines against Pirola, both the CDC and the vaccine manufacturers remain confident that the vaccines offer defense against the variant. Ongoing monitoring and research will be crucial in determining the true impact of Pirola and its subvariants on public health.


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