The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially named the new COVID variant, JN.1, as a "variant of interest."
This designation reflects the organization's concern over its rapid global spread and the need for close monitoring.
Rapid Spread of JN.1
JN.1, a highly mutated variant, is spreading faster than its ancestor, the BA.2.86 variant.
"JN.1 continues to be reported in multiple countries, and its prevalence has been rapidly increasing globally and now represents the vast majority of BA.2.86 descendant lineages reported," stated the WHO in its latest report.
Characteristics of Variants of Interest
The WHO defines variants of interest as those that are concerning enough to warrant increased laboratory studies and field investigations.
These variants must have genetic mutations that alter key characteristics of the virus, such as transmissibility or resistance to treatments and vaccines, and pose an emerging risk to global public health.
JN.1's Potential Immune Evasion
Early evidence suggests that JN.1's mutations may enhance its ability to evade the body's immune defenses.
"Based on its genetic features, JN.1 may possess some antigenic advantage evading previous immunity," the WHO reported.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has not yet classified JN.1 as a variant of interest. However, the CDC's estimates earlier this month showed JN.1 as the fastest-growing strain in the United States, accounting for more than one in five cases nationwide.
Vaccine Efficacy Against JN.1
Despite JN.1's widespread transmission, this season's updated COVID-19 vaccines are still expected to be effective against it.
The WHO acknowledged that early studies of the variant have shown lower "cross neutralization" in tests designed to mimic the vaccines' protection, but they are likely to remain effective.