Statement on the update of WHO’s working definitions and tracking system for SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants of interest

Statement on the update of WHO’s working definitions and tracking system for SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern and variants of interest

WHO has up to date its tracking process and working definitions for variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, to improved correspond to the present worldwide variant landscape, to independently assess Omicron sublineages in circulation, and classify new variants far more clearly when demanded.

SARS-CoV-2 continues to evolve. Considering that the commencing of the COVID-19 pandemic, many variants of worry (VOCs) and variants of curiosity (VOIs) have been designated by WHO primarily based on their assessed potential for expansion and substitute of prior variants, for triggering new waves with enhanced circulation, and for the have to have for adjustments to public health and fitness actions.

Based on comparisons of antigenic cross reactivity working with animal sera, replication studies in experimental products of the human respiratory tract, and evidence from scientific and epidemiological studies in people, there is consensus between gurus in WHO’s Specialized Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) that in comparison to earlier variants, Omicron signifies the most divergent VOC found to day. Given that its emergence, Omicron viruses have continued to evolve genetically and antigenically with an expanding range of sublineages, which so much have all been characterised by qualities of evasion of existing population immunity and a desire to infect the higher respiratory tract (as opposed to reduce respiratory tract), as in contrast to pre-Omicron VOCs.

The Omicron viruses account for about 98{35112b74ca1a6bc4decb6697edde3f9edcc1b44915f2ccb9995df8df6b4364bc} of the publicly readily available sequences due to the fact February 2022 and constitute the genetic history from which new SARS-CoV-2 variants will probable emerge, even though the emergence of variants derived from previously circulating VOCs or of fully new variants continues to be achievable. The former process categorized all Omicron sublineages as portion of the Omicron VOC and therefore did not have the granularity needed to compare new descendent lineages with altered phenotypes to the Omicron parent lineages (BA.1, BA.2, BA.4/BA.5). Thus, from 15 March 2023, the WHO variant monitoring system will look at the classification of Omicron sublineages independently as variants beneath monitoring (VUMs), VOIs, or VOCs.

WHO is also updating the working definitions for VOCs and VOIs. The most important update is made up in building the VOC definition much more distinct, to involve major SARS-CoV-2 evolutionary ways that need main community overall health interventions. For the updated definitions, make sure you check out the WHO variant monitoring web-site.

In addition, going ahead, WHO will assign Greek labels for VOCs, and will no extended do so for VOIs.

With these alterations factored in, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta as nicely as the Omicron father or mother lineage (B.1.1.529) are deemed earlier circulating VOCs. WHO has now labeled XBB.1.5 as a VOI. 

WHO will also go on to challenge standard danger assessments for both of those VOIs and VOCs (see most recent risk evaluation for XBB.1.5).

WHO emphasizes that these changes do not indicate that the circulation of Omicron viruses no more time pose a threat to general public well being. Alternatively, the changes have been made in order to much better detect extra or new threats in excess of and above people posed by the latest Omicron viruses in circulation.