COVID-19 Variants: What You Need to Know

Several variants of COVID-19 have emerged around the world

(RxWiki News) As viruses replicate, they start to change. That's exactly what has happened with COVID-19, which has led to several variants of the original virus.

These COVID-19 variants are causing new infections all over the world. Here's what you need to know.

About COVID-19 Variants

As COVID-19 has infected millions of people around the world, it has replicated itself inside people. Each time it replicates, the virus can change slightly. These slightly different viruses often emerge and fade away.

Sometimes, however, a change in the virus will give it characteristics that allow it to infect people more easily, meaning it can replicate more often. That leads to more instances of the variant.

This process has happened many times with COVID-19, and several of the variants have become prevalent because of some of the changes that have occurred in their makeup.

Do COVID-19 Vaccines Protect Against Variants?

The currently approved COVID-19 vaccines were developed to prevent the versions of COVID-19 that were circulating at the time. So, what happens when there are new versions of the virus?

This is a question that health officials are continually studying as more COVID-19 variants emerge, but there is good news so far. As of the time of publication, the COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in the United States appeared to protect against the variants that were circulating.

Because of this fact and the data so far on the COVID-19 vaccines' safety and effectiveness, health officials continue to recommend getting vaccinated.

COVID-19 Variants in the US

There are many variants of COVID-19, and more will likely emerge as time passes. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it was monitoring four notable variants in the US:

  • B.1.1.7 (Alpha). This COVID-19 variant was first seen in the United Kingdom, and it appeared in the United States in December of 2020. According to the CDC, this is the most common variant in the US.
  • B.1.351 (Beta). In December of 2020, health officials first detected the Beta variant in South Africa. It began to show up in testing in the US at the end of January of 2021.
  • P.1 (Gamma). Also detected in the US in January of 2021 was the Gamma variant. Health officials first saw this variant earlier that month in Japan. Routine testing at a Japanese airport detected the variant in travelers from Brazil.
  • B.1.617.2 (Delta). First found in India in December of 2020, the Delta variant was detected in the US in March of 2021. Since then, it has spread rapidly across the country.

The CDC said that each of these variants appears to spread more quickly and easily than other versions of COVID-19.

If you are concerned that you might have COVID-19 or have questions about the virus or vaccine, reach out to your health care provider.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 26, 2021