Several novel coronavirus variants have emerged since 2020 but four of them – Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma – are classified variants of concern for some reasons.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers them of higher infection rate and more violent against immunity that the effectiveness of public health and social measures such as diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics are reduced.
But they are not new variants. The difference is in the scientific names that are more popular and the labelling given by the WHO.
Alpha is the WHO name for the B.1.1.7 variant of coronavirus that was first detected in the United Kingdom in September 2020.
The familiar name, B.1.1.7, is the scientific description. Research shows it transmits rapidly and is associated with an increased risk of death compared with other variants. Nigeria recorded 54 cases of Alpha as of February 2021.
Beta is the same as the B.1.351 variant detected in South Africa last October and has spread across the globe. There is no evidence to suggest that it causes severe illness but some evidence indicates that one of its spike protein mutations, E484K, may affect the body’s capacity to fight the virus.
Vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna have however proven to be effective against it.
The Brazil variant or Gamma or P.1 is the same variant described in different ways. Gamma is a branch of the B.1.1.28 lineage that was first reported by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases (NIID) in Japan in four travellers from Brazil, sampled during routine screening.
There is evidence to suggest that some of the mutations in the P.1 variant may affect its transmissibility and antigenic profile, which may affect the ability of antibodies generated through previous natural infection or through vaccination to recognise and neutralise the virus.
For instance, US’ Illinois saw six times as many gamma variant cases of the coronavirus as Delta variants last week, according to an analysis done by Chicago’s local CBS News affiliate.
The National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) has not detected the variant in Nigeria.
The Delta variant equals B.1.617.2 and it is the latest variant of concern listed by the WHO.
It is the fastest, fittest and most formidable version of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 the world has encountered, and is stirring concern even as nations loosen restrictions and open their economies, according to virologists and epidemiologists.
It was initially detected in India last December but has spread to about 100 countries. It is on track to become the dominant version of the virus circulating among countries.
The Delta and Gamma variants are categorised as causing concern because they spread more easily and can reduce the effectiveness of antibodies.
Again, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta are not a new set of variants. The difference is in the name.