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Variants of the Virus that Causes COVID-19

Viruses change, or mutate, over time. This results in new variants or types that are slightly different from the original.

Variants of SARS-COV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, continue to be found worldwide. This is expected.

Some of these variants seem to spread more easily or cause more severe disease. Certain variants have mutations or changes. These mutations may help the virus evade infection-fighting antibodies. This could possibly affect response to existing treatments or protection by past infections or vaccines.  

What Are the Variants that Worry Public Health Officials?

The U.S. has developed a classification that defines 3 classes of variants.

Variant of Interest

These variants have not yet been shown to be more infectious. But they may require closer surveillance and investigations to learn:

  • How easily they spread
  • Risk of infection
  • If vaccines protect against them

Variant of Concern

These variants appear to spread more easily or cause more severe disease.

Variant of High Consequence

These variants have clear evidence that they are not as responsive to vaccines or treatments. Currently there are no variants that rise to the level of high consequence.

For more information about variants, please visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Variant Classifications and Definitions and the CDC COVID Data Tracker.

Find more information about COVID-19 variants:

What can I do to protect myself and others from the new variants?

The best way to respond is to continue the same COVID-19 prevention steps:

  • Avoid crowds.
  • Wear a face mask in public.
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Keep a physical distance.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available for you.

Do the vaccines work against these variants?

COVID-19 vaccines seem to protect against COVID-19 caused by the current variants, but more research is needed. Scientists are studying these variants to learn how antibodies made after a vaccine work against the variants.

The authorized vaccines all seem to be effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death in the current variants of concern. Vaccinating as many people as possible and as soon as possible is one of the best ways to slow down the development of new variants.

Will I know if I have one of the variants?

It depends on where you are tested for COVID-19. Some hospitals, health department labs, the CDC, and some other testing locations will do additional tests to look for variants.

But this is a separate test that takes more time. It is not always done. If you test positive for any form of the virus, you might be notified of a positive test. If further testing is done to look for variants, you might be contacted later. This will depend upon the laboratory and health department.

What should I do if I find out that I have a variant?

If you test positive for any form of the virus, it is very important to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19. You will be given isolation instructions when you are notified of a positive test.

Always follow these instructions. If you are in isolation and find out you have a variant, continue taking the same isolation precautions as instructed by the health officials or health care providers.

Reviewed: May 2021