Virologists closely monitor emerging omicron variant

A new subvariant of omicron called BA.2 is closely being watched by scientists around the world. Dr. Alex Greninger of the UW Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory says the original omicron strain (BA.1) remains the dominant COVID-19 foe in Washington state.

“We need to see if this [BA.2] is something that will actually move,” said Greninger. “It’s actually kind of ironic to talk about another variant at a time [when] we're still at the peak of BA.1.”

[Sequencing dashboard: View the omicron variant’s swift rise in Washington.]

In Europe, the subvariant is starting to outpace BA.1 in Denmark, and the United Kingdom classifies the new strain as a “variant under investigation.”

“I look at it as sort of like a boxing or UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighter,” said Greninger. “BA.2 has gone head-to-head with BA.1 in a country and defeated it in that country. All things being equal, you would anticipate that it could be the champ.”  

BA.2’s characteristics are taking shape, but more monitoring is needed, he said. “We haven't seen any data to suggest it's worse from a hospitalization standpoint. What we know is its increasing in frequency, right? So it has a little bit of a transmissibility edge over the BA.1.”

In downloadable video assets, Greninger explains how BA.1’s rapid pace may affect BA.2’s ability to spread.

UW Medicine