KEY POINTS

  • WHO is currently monitoring seven COVID-19 variants "of interest" and three variants "of concern"
  • The "variants of concern" are more contagious and dangerous than the original strain of the virus
  • WHO said it will conduct more studies to determine the significance of the India COVID-19 variant

The World Health Organization on Monday said it was closely monitoring 10 COVID-19 variants, including two strains found in the United States. 

WHO officials are currently observing seven coronavirus variants “of interest” and three variants “of concern” as potential global public health threats. The variants classified under the more contagious and more dangerous “of concern” label include B.1.1.7 from U.K., B.1.351 found in South Africa and P.1 from Brazil.

“There actually are a number of virus variants that are being detected around the world, all of which we need to properly assess,” WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, told CNBC.

“There are new variants every day that are being identified and being reported, not all of which are important.”

The B.1.1.7 strain was first detected in the United Kingdom in December. It is currently the most common variant circulating in the U.S. and was behind the recent spike that saw the country hit 63,000 new cases daily. 

The B.1.351 variant, which was first detected in South Africa, had been found to be able to evade protections offered by Pfizer/BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, according to research conducted at Tel Aviv University and Clalit in April. 

The South African variant had shown a 5.45% prevalence rate among vaccinated study participants and 0.7% among unvaccinated patients. The study involved nearly 400 people who tested positive for the virus.  

The P.1. variant, first detected in Brazil, was behind the COVID-19 surge in the Latin American country. Research conducted by Fiocruz, a public health institute in Brazil, found that the new variant is more resistant to vaccines. 

"We believe it's another escape mechanism the virus is creating to evade the response of antibodies," Felipe Naveca, one of the authors of the study, told Reuters

WHO is also monitoring several variants of interest, one of which is the B.1617 variant. The triple-mutant strain was first detected in India and is the cause of the devastating surge in coronavirus cases in the country. 

On Saturday, India reported 401,933 new coronavirus infections, making it the first time a country has surpassed 400,000 cases in a single day. Health officials in India also recorded 3,523 new coronavirus-related deaths, bringing its total death toll to 211,853. 

The B.1617 variant is currently found in 17 other countries, including Singapore, the U.S. and the U.K. 

WHO stopped short of calling the variant a cause of concern, noting that more studies need to be completed to understand the strain’s impact and significance. 

Kerkhove noted, “It’s important that we have the proper discussions to determine which ones are significant from a public health value, meaning does it change our ability to use public health social measures, or any of our medical countermeasures.”

India's massive surge has seen impromptu cremation grounds spring up across New Delhi India's massive surge has seen impromptu cremation grounds spring up across New Delhi Photo: AFP / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA