While the Delta variant has been largely to blame for cockblocking Hot Vax Summer, it might be worth diverting some of the spotlight on Delta to another variant: R.1. According to experts, the R.1 variant may have a higher chance of causing breakthrough infections than earlier variants. Here’s what we know about it so far.
First of all, it’s important to note that Delta is still the world’s most dominant variant by a long shot. Around 92% of coronavirus sequences from the U.S. that have been sent to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data were Delta. In contrast, R.1 is responsible for less than 0.5% of cases in the U.S., public health physician Charlene Brown told Yahoo! News.
The CDC considers Delta a “variant of concern,” meaning there’s evidence that it’s more contagious, causes more serious illness, and is less responsive to vaccines. Meanwhile, the agency hasn’t included R.1 as a variant of interest or concern, but notes in a report released in April that it seems to have “mutations of importance.” The report explained that evidence suggests that one of these mutations might make the virus more transmissible. Another mutation could make it more resistant to the antibodies produced by vaccinated people and those who recently had COVID, Newsweek said.
While R.1 has a mutation that scientists think might make it spread more easily, time will tell whether this will actually play out in the real world. For now, “there is no sign that it will overtake the Delta variant's dominance,” Brown said, according to Yahoo! News. In other words, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb’s theory that the Delta surge might be the last huge wave of the pandemic could still hold up.
Even if many of us are hearing about it for the first time, Yahoo! News pointed out that R.1 isn’t new. Scientists first noticed it in Japan last November, Newsweek reported. Since then, it’s spread to other parts of the world, including 47 states in the U.S.
What’s probably most concerning is the fact that R.1 contributed to an outbreak at a nursing home in Kentucky in March, as outlined in the April CDC report. Eighteen of the 26 residents and four of the 20 healthcare workers who were infected had been fully vaccinated — which, according to Yahoo! News, suggests that this variant may be more likely to result in breakthrough infections than its predecessors.
That said, the report also found that unvaccinated residents and healthcare workers were about 3 to 4 times more likely to get infected than vaccinated people. Most of the hospitalizations and deaths occurred in the unvaccinated.
Basically, take this as a sign to get the jab if you haven’t already. Our best defense against R.1, and indeed any variant, is vaccination, Brown told Yahoo! News. R.1 may be the hot new variant right now, but it certainly won’t be the last.