The journey of the COVID-19 coronavirus since 2020 has been marked by significant changes. While the days of meticulously sanitizing Amazon packages and maintaining a six-foot distance may seem like a thing of the past, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, responsible for COVID-19, continues to undergo evolution. Variants such as Alpha, Delta, Omicron, and others have emerged, prompting questions about the extent of COVID variants. In the following sections, experts shed light on the evolution of COVID-19 and the latest variants of concern.\r\n\r\nREAD: Can This Drug Finally Wipe Out Tuberculosis? Shocking Revelations Unveiled in Latest WHO Report!\u201d\r\n\r\nAllow us to introduce the experts: Dr. Linda Yancey, an infectious diseases specialist at Memorial Hermann Hospital, and Dr. Peter Kasson, from the University of Virginia\u2019s departments of Molecular Physiology and Biomedical Engineering, holding M.D., Ph.D., B.S. credentials.\r\nUnderstanding COVID-19 Variants\r\nWhat is a COVID variant?\r\nDr. Linda Yancey explains that a variant is essentially a slightly altered virus. Much like human generations, viruses go through generational changes, with each iteration differing somewhat from its predecessor. In the case of COVID-19, multiple mutations have given rise to variants like Alpha, Delta, and various subvariants of Omicron.\r\n\r\nDr. Peter Kasson emphasizes that variants with increased infectivity or the ability to evade immunity from previous variants are more likely to trigger new waves of COVID. Some variants, especially those significantly different or concerning, are assigned specific names, such as Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron. Further categorization involves subvariants, identified by labels like EG.5 or XBB.1.16.6, both of which are subvariants of Omicron.\r\nWhy do variants develop?\r\nViruses like SARS-CoV-2 and influenza carry their genetic code in RNA. Dr. Kasson explains that as more RNA is produced during virus replication, there's a chance that mutations will occur. Given the widespread incidence of COVID among millions of people, the likelihood of mutations increases. While most mutations either have no effect or make the virus infect worse, some enhance infectivity or help the virus evade existing immunity, making it more challenging for vaccines to provide protection.\r\nThe Landscape of COVID Variants\r\nHow many COVID variants are there?\r\nTo date, four major variants have been identified: Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Omicron. Each of these has multiple subvariants, contributing to the complexity of the virus's evolution. The most prominent variants include:\r\n\r\nOmicron (including subvariants): Dr. Yancey notes that Omicron is highly contagious, outcompeting the Delta variant. Current vaccines offer broad coverage against various variants, but the effectiveness against Omicron subvariants in preventing infection is somewhat diminished. Nevertheless, vaccines remain effective in preventing severe illness and death.\r\n\r\nDelta: While less contagious than Omicron, Delta caused more severe disease and is not currently circulating. Vaccines are highly effective in protecting against Delta.\r\n\r\nBeta: Dr. Yancey describes Beta as approximately twice as contagious as the original strain. It circulated for a few months in 2021 but was outcompeted by other variants before vaccines became widely available. Beta is not currently in circulation.\r\n\r\nAlpha: Mildly more contagious than the original strain, Alpha caused more severe disease. It was prevalent from late 2020 to late 2021 before being outcompeted by Delta and then Omicron. Current vaccines are effective against Alpha, which is not currently circulating.\r\n\r\nDr. Kasson emphasizes that the protection provided by vaccines against older variants and new variants is generally robust, as vaccination against new variants also boosts protection against older responses.\r\n\r\nIn summary, the dynamic landscape of COVID-19 variants continues to evolve, and scientists and healthcare professionals remain vigilant in monitoring and responding to these changes.