WHO Renames COVID-19 Variants With Greek Letters To Avoid St
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The World Health Organization has created a new system to name COVID-19 variants, getting away from place-based names that can be hard to pronounce, difficult to remember, and stigmatize a specific country.

The new system, which was announced May 31, is based on the letters of the Greek alphabet. The United Kingdom variant, called by scientists B.1.1.7, will now be Alpha. B.1.351, the South Africa variant, will now be Beta and the B.1.617.2 variant discovered in India will now be known as Delta.

When the 24 letters of the Greek alphabet are used up, WHO will announce another series. "It's the right thing to do," said Dr. Monica Gandhi, an infectious disease expert at the University of California, San Francisco. It may also make countries more open to reporting new variants if they're not afraid of being forever associated with them in the mind of the public.

WHO said that while scientific names have advantages, they can be difficult to say and are prone to misreporting. "As a result, people often resort to calling variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing and discriminatory," WHO said. It's also often wrong. Where a disease or virus is first discovered isn't usually where it actually first emerged.

The new WHO naming system was created in collaboration with experts and researchers who've been monitoring and assessing the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. The established scientific nomenclature systems for tracking SARS-CoV-2 mutation will remain in use in the scientific community, WHO said.

The new WHO names are meant to be easier to remember and more practical for non-scientific audiences, as the virus lineage names do not trip off the tongue. For example, the variant discovered in the United States in March of last year is known as the B.1.427 to scientists. Calling something "the South Africa variant" can make people fear anyone coming from South Africa, even when it's not clear the variant actually emerged there.

~ SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern and Variants of Interest

Variants of Concern

A SARS-CoV-2 variant that meets the definition of a VOI (see below) and, through a comparative assessment, has been demonstrated to be associated with one or more of the following changes at a degree of global public health significance:

- Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology; or

- Increase in virulence or change in clinical disease presentation; or

- Decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.

Variants of Interest

A SARS-CoV-2 isolate is a Variant of Interest (VOI) if, compared to a reference isolate, its genome has mutations with established or suspected phenotypic implications, and either:

- has been identified to cause community transmission/multiple COVID-19 cases/clusters, or has been detected in multiple countries; OR

- is otherwise assessed to be a VOI by WHO in consultation with the WHO SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution Working Group.

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