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As part of the ongoing surveillance for COVID-19 cases local Public Health Departments monitor changes in the virus that could affect the spread of this disease. Like all viruses, SARS-CoV-2 changes constantly through mutation. These mutations add up and create slightly different versions of the virus called “variants.” Sometimes, a mutation will result in the virus spreading more easily, making people sicker or making it resistant to treatment or vaccines. Variants with these types of mutations are called variants of concern.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks variants that are circulating nationwide. Some of these variants are a serious threat to adults who are not fully vaccinated, especially those who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 disease. Individuals who are fully vaccinated have received two doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The term variant of interest (VOI) is used to describe a newly emerging variant for which the medical and public health importance is not yet known, as well as for variants that have shown a significant decrease in the proportion of viruses circulating nationally and available data indicate that vaccines and treatments are effective against them. If a variant is thought to be more contagious or likely to cause greater illness or severe disease, or may impact treatment or vaccine response, then it is considered a variant of concern (VOC).  

Variants of concern are spreading more quickly locally, statewide and across the country. In Imperial County, two variants of concern – the Alpha variant (B.1.1.7) and the Gamma variant (P.1) -- are the predominant variants circulating.

The Delta variant (B.1.617.2) is concerning because it seems to be spreading much more easily than the original virus and other variants. It may also cause more severe infections, including those that lead to hospitalization. The Delta variant is also becoming more common in the U.S.

Currently, the CDC has found that all 3 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S. are highly effective at preventing serious illness and death from these variants. The CDC, local Public Health Departments, Indian Health Services, and the Office of Emergency Management highly encourages community members to get vaccinated to prevent further spread of the virus. 

For more information about variants of concern and variants of interest, please visit CDC classifications and definitions.

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