JN.1 joins WHO’s list of Covid variants of interest amid low concerns for public health

The World Health Organization (WHO) has recently designated the JN.1 coronavirus strain as a “variant of interest,” with current data indicating a low risk to public health. This classification follows the WHO’s observation of the strain’s ability to bypass immune defenses and its higher transmissibility compared to other prevalent variants. Despite these characteristics, experts, including virologist Andrew Pekosz from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, emphasize that JN.1 has not been linked to more severe illness.

JN.1 joins WHO's list of Covid variants of interest amid low concerns for public health

Previously, JN.1 was grouped under its parent lineage, BA.2.86, but has since been recognized as a distinct variant of interest by WHO. The organization reassures that existing COVID-19 vaccines remain effective in preventing severe disease and death from JN.1 and other circulating variants. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that JN.1 accounted for an estimated 15% to 29% of COVID-19 cases as of December 8.

The CDC has found no evidence of increased public health risk from JN.1 relative to other variants. It also suggests that updated vaccinations could offer protection against this variant. The discovery of the JN.1 strain of the coronavirus was first made in the United States in September, marking another evolution in the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, the strain has garnered attention from global health authorities due to its distinct genetic makeup.

Recent developments include the detection of seven cases in China, a week prior to the WHO’s latest announcement. This finding underscores the ongoing vigilance required in tracking and understanding COVID-19 variants as they emerge around the world. The continued monitoring and analysis of such variants are crucial for informing public health strategies and vaccine adaptations.