COVID-19 Variants - What You Need To Know   

COVID-19 Variants - What You Need To Know

August 16, 2021

Clinical Contributors to this story:
By: Katie Woehnker 

Alpha, Lambda, Delta, this isn’t your university’s Greek life mixer. Scientists are using Greek letters to name the new variants of the COVID-19 virus. There are many new variants of the COVID-19 virus – here’s what you need to know about the most common variants right now.

What COVID variant is the most common?

The most prevalent COVID-19 variant depends on where you live and when you’re asking, as the virus is constantly evolving.

In the U.S., the Alpha variant was the most common earlier in the pandemic, and has since been overthrown by the Delta variant.

“Speaking to NJ, in the last month and half we’ve seen a major switch from Alpha being the most predominant in February and March, to almost being completely replaced by the Delta variant,” shares Barry Kreiswirth, Ph.D., a microbiologist at Hackensack Meridian Health’s Center for Discovery and Innovation (CDI).

There are other variants of COVID-19 including Beta, Gamma and Lambda, all of which are closely watched by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization and at CDI.

Why are there multiple COVID-19 variants?

Viruses mutate, which leads to new variants; the COVID-19 virus will continue to change.

“When a virus enters the body, it’s goal is to enter the cells and replicate itself,” adds Dr. Kreiswirth. “During replication, it has the opportunity to mutate – these changes can strengthen or weaken a virus.”

For example, a change can mean the variant is more easily spread, or more resistant to vaccines and treatment.

“Each variant has a change in the spike protein – there can be other genetic changes as well, but we focus on the spike protein because it’s directly related to transmissibility. The spike protein is located on the outside of the virus and is how the virus attaches to the cells,” shares Dr. Kreiswirth.

Is the Delta variant more transmissible?

Yes, the Delta variant is more transmissible, and almost twice as contagious as previous strains, according to the CDC.

“Getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself, and to stop the spread of the virus,” advises Dr. Kreiswirth. “When the population of vaccinated people rises, the virus then needs to be more transmissible to find a host.”

“It’s a numbers game — Delta is king right now because it’s more transmissible and replicates better than the other variants.”

Does testing reveal which variant you have?

A PCR or a rapid COVID-19 test will not indicate which variant of COVID-19 you have, it will only confirm a positive or negative result. However, researchers are tracking the virus to follow which variants are present and any new variants to be concerned about.

Are symptoms or recovery time different for each variant?

“Your recovery time and symptoms depend more so on your vaccination status, overall health and treatments administered, rather than the type of variant you’re infected with,” shares Dr. Kreiswirth.

The COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson have all proven to be effective against preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Are children more at risk for a particular variant?

The FDA has not yet provided emergency use authorization (EUA) of the vaccine for children under 12 years of age, and since the Delta variant is highly transmissible, it does make children more vulnerable.

“The virus’s goal is to find a host, and unfortunately since there’s no EUA for the vaccine for younger children yet, that itself is another risk factor,” adds Dr. Kreiswirth. “The best thing we can do for our children is to get vaccinated as adults, and continue to wear masks so that we can stop the spread.”

Is the vaccine more effective towards a particular variant?

“The good news is that no variant right now has proved to be vaccine resistant. But the Delta variant is spreading faster than the Alpha did; it is imperative that anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated, do so,” concludes Dr. Kreiswirth.

Next Steps & Resources: 

  • Meet our source: Barry Kreiswirth, Ph.D.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.


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