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What you need to know

  • BA.2.86, now dubbed Pirola, may be less contagious than experts first thought. 
  • BA.2.86 continues to spread but not as fast as the first Omicron variant.
  • The upcoming fall vaccines are expected to help protect us against BA.2.86, and so are some existing treatments. 

The United States is still in the midst of a COVID-19 summer wave as hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise. But, there is some good news: We now have more information about BA.2.86, the new variant causing concern around the world. Lab results showed that it is not as contagious as experts first thought, that it won’t be as bad as the original Omicron variant, and that the upcoming fall vaccines can help protect us against it. 

Read on to learn more about the latest research on the BA.2.86 variant. 

What else have we learned about BA.2.86?

Several lab results have found that although BA.2.86 is a highly mutated variant (with over 30 mutations), our bodies can fight it off as well as or even more effectively than other currently circulating variants. This means that the variant is not as good at evading our immunity as experts previously thought. Lab results also showed that people who had a recent XBB variant infection had the highest level of protection against BA.2.86. Overall, “we can expect BA.2.86 to cause infections, but not as much as anticipated,” according to Your Local Epidemiologist

Will BA.2.86 be as bad as the first Omicron variant?

Scientists had feared that because of its highly mutated nature, BA.2.86 could cause a wave as bad as the one we experienced when BA.1, the first Omicron variant, appeared. However, based on what research has recently shown, that doesn’t seem to be the case. While the variant has now been detected in more than a dozen countries, some data suggests that it is not spreading as fast as the first Omicron variant but faster than XBB. Bill Hanage, a Harvard University epidemiologist, wrote in a post on X (formerly known as Twitter), “This is not the second coming of Omicron. If it were, it is safe to say we would know by now.”

Will fall vaccines help protect us against it?

It seems like it: Recent research shows that fall vaccines will offer protection against BA.2.86. Lab results showed that people with the strongest response to the variant were those with a previous XBB infection, so this fall’s updated vaccines—which are designed to fight off XBB.1.5—can offer protection against the variant. This highlights the importance of getting the updated booster this fall.