WHO releases a statement on SARS-CoV-2 Strain JN.1. ‘Standalone Variant of Interest’ Due to Its Rapidly Increasing Spread

On December 20, 2023, WHO releases a statement on SARS-CoV-2 Strain JN.1. Per our other articles on the new COVID-19 Strain JN.1,  SARS-CoV-2 Variant JN.1 Being Tracked by CDC.   On 20 December 2023, WHO stated, “The classification of JN.1 as a separate variant of interest (VOI) is down to “its rapidly increasing spread” around the globe”.  In the USA,  JN.1 now makes up about 44.1% of COVID-19 cases across the country.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated Friday December 22, 2023.  Subsequently marking another week of the fast-spreading variant’s steep rise in the U.S.  The increase is more than two times larger than the 21.3%.  The CDC now estimates the strain made up most of the infections for the week ending Dec. 9, after Thanksgiving.

Where is it spreading in America

Among regions with enough data reported from testing labs to produce these latest projections, the CDC estimates that JN.1’s prevalence is largest in the Northeast region spanning New Jersey and New York, where the strain is 56.9% of cases in those states.  CDC is tracking a SARS-CoV-2 variant called JN.1  CDC Tracking Map

WHO Releases a statement on SARS-CoV-2 Strain JN.1

WHO’s Statement

Thus, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new COVID-19 variant JN.1 a ‘standalone variant of interest’.  WHO’s decision based on data of the strain’s ‘rapidly increasing spread’.  Media reports added that the new variants’ characteristics and growth advantage over other strains in circulation prompted the early warning.
Though WHO assessed the global public health risk of JN.1 as low, it warned that countries approaching winter should be aware that COVID-19 and other pathogens may exacerbate respiratory disease seasons. “Despite this, with the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, JN.1 could increase the burden of respiratory infections in many countries,” it said.

While JN.1 is now restricted to its circulation in the US, it is responsible for an estimated 1 in 5 new coronavirus infections, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency expects that JN.1’s prevalence in the US will continue to increase in the winter months.

WHO considers BA.2.86 sub-lineages to be variants of interest, but now JN.1 is listed as a variant of interest separate from its parent lineage, also known as Pirola. WHO defines a variant of interest as a strain with genetic mutations, according to US News & World Report.

 About Testing for JN.1

COVID-19 tests and treatments will work on JN.1. So far, it doesn’t appear to cause more severe disease but it does seem to have advantages over the other strains.  “While there is a rapid increase in JN.1 infections, and likely increase in cases, available limited evidence does not suggest that the associated disease severity is higher as compared to other circulating variants,” WHO said in its risk assessment of the strain.

In Summary – The Good News

Coronavirus vaccines  work on JN.1. Current vaccines, including those based on ancestral strains as well as the updated monovalent XBB vaccine.   They will continue to provide protection against severe disease and death.  This list includes against JN.1,” WHO’s Maria Van Kerkhove said on social media.