A Johns Hopkins virologist has answers for you about the latest COVID variant.

Vaccines, tests, and antivirals are still effective tools against the most recent COVID surge, says Andy Pekosz, a professor in the molecular microbiology and immunology department at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

In early November 2023, the JN.1 variant caused less than 5% of COVID-19 cases in the US. Now it is estimated to cause more than 60% of them. Virologists, including Pekosz, are paying attention.

Here, he explains what virologists are seeing, what this new variant means for case rates and treatments, and why it’s so important for more people to get the updated COVID-19 vaccine rolled out this fall:

What is JN.1?

A SARS-CoV-2 variant called BA.2.86 emerged a few months ago and caught virologists’ attention because it contains many more mutations—about 30 of them—to evade immunity than any other variant circulating at that time. However, the BA.2.86 variant never came to dominate among the group of SARS-CoV-2 variants that were circulating in the late summer/early fall of 2023. The JN.1 variant is a descendant of BA.2.86 that has acquired the ability to transmit efficiently through an additional one or two mutations. It has the immune evasion of its parent but has now mutated to transmit more efficiently.

What’s happening now with this variant?

The increase in the number of cases caused by JN.1 corresponds to an overall increase in COVID-19 cases. Symptoms of JN.1 infection are very similar to those of previous Omicron variants, and it doesn’t seem to cause more severe disease, either. There is some suggestion that JN.1 may be causing more diarrhea than previous variants, but we don’t have any firm data supporting that yet.

What’s most important to understand about this variant?

This latest variant should be a reminder that we have tools to fight off COVID infection and minimize severe disease: Tests detect JN.1, the new vaccines protect against severe disease, and antivirals are still capable of treating infection from JN.1. We just have to use these tools more effectively than we have over the last six months.

So far, only 8% of children and 19% of adults have received the latest vaccine, so a lot of people are missing out on protection from this virus.

Read the full article about COVID variant at Futurity.