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What to Know About the “Stealthier” Virus Variant

A coronavirus version known as BA.2, which has been found in at least 40 countries, including the U.S., is “stealthier” than the omicron variant because it may be harder to detect and more contagious—and scientists worldwide are watching it warily, according to the AP.

Where it is: “Since mid-November, more than three dozen countries have uploaded nearly 15,000 genetic sequences of BA.2 to GISAID, a global platform for sharing coronavirus data. As of Tuesday morning, 96 of those sequenced cases came from the U.S.”

  • BA.2, which is considered a subset of omicron, seems to be much more common in Asia and Europe and has not yet gained a significant foothold in the United States, pathologist Wesley Long told the AP.

Many mutations: BA.2 has numerous mutations, approximately 20 of which are in the spike protein on the outside of the virus.

  • Still unclear is the extent of the “additional genetic changes not seen in the initial version,” virologist Jeremy Luban told the AP.  
  • Also not yet known is whether prior infection from the original omicron variant provides protection from infection with BA.2.

Why it’s harder to detect: “The original version of omicron had specific genetic features that allowed health officials to rapidly differentiate it from delta using a certain PCR test because of what’s known as ‘S gene target failure.’ BA.2 doesn’t have this same genetic quirk. So, on the test … BA.2 looks like delta.”

Will it get its own letter? Scientists could assign BA.2 its own Greek letter if it becomes a worldwide “variant of concern,” but an early analysis in Denmark “shows no differences in hospitalizations for BA.2 compared with the original omicron.”

How to protect yourself: Vaccination remains the best way for people to arm themselves against COVID-19 in all its variants. For information and resources on getting vaccinated, visit the homepage of This Is Our Shot, a project of the NAM and The Manufacturing Institute.

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