The World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday classified a new strain of COVID-19 as a “variant of interest.”
The EG.5 variant has been spreading rapidly in the United States, encompassing over 17% of cases.
It has also been detected in China, South Korea, Japan and Canada.
What else do we know about the EG.5 variant of COVID-19?
The WHO said that the new variant does not at present seem to pose an additional public health risk compared to other strains of COVID-19.
“Collectively, available evidence does not suggest that EG.5 has additional public health risks relative to the other currently circulating Omicron descendent lineages,” the organization said.
It said that a more comprehensive evaluation of the risk posed by EG.5 was needed.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said that while EG.5 had increased transmissibility, infections were not more severe than other Omicron variants.
“We don’t detect a change in severity of EG.5 compared to other sublineages of Omicron that have been in circulation since late 2021,” she said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the director of the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said that updated vaccines to be offered in mid-to-late September will provide protection against the variant.
“Right now, what we’re seeing with the changes in the viruses, they’re still susceptible to our vaccine, they’re still susceptible to our medicines, they’re still picked up by the tests,” Cohen said.
The CDC chief said that the mutations in the virus amounted to “small changes” and “subtypes of what we’ve seen before.”
“We are likely to see this as a recommendation as an annual COVID shot just like we have an annual flu shot,” she said.
Countries not reporting COVID-19 data, WHO says
Meanwhile, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that many countries were not reporting coronavirus data to the organization.
He said only 11% had reported hospitalizations and ICU admissions related to COVID-19.
The WHO issued a set of recommendations for reporting data on the virus, particularly mortality and morbidity. It also urged countries to continue offering vaccination.
“About a year ago, we were in a much better situation to either anticipate or act or be more agile,” Van Kerkhove said.
“And now the delay in our ability to do that is growing. And our ability to do this is declining.”
“What we cannot do right now is give you an accurate statistic of how many deaths are actually occurring for Covid-19,” she said.