CDC Tracks New SARS-CoV-2 Variant, BA.2.87.1

February 9, 2024, 4:20 PM EDT

Updates on respiratory illness and vaccine-preventable diseases.

CDC is tracking and analyzing BA.2.87.1, a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. To date, this variant has been detected nine times in the Republic of South Africa. These viruses came from specimens collected from September-December 2023 and were then posted to a public database on January 31. As of February 8, no clinical cases of BA.2.87.1 have been identified in the United States or anywhere outside of South Africa. CDC is monitoring sequences from patient cases and other surveillance systems that include incoming international travelers and wastewater. The fact that only nine cases have been detected in one country since the first specimen was collected in September suggests it does not appear to be highly transmissible – at least so far.

CDC is closely tracking BA.2.87.1 because it has over 30 changes in the spike protein of the virus when compared to XBB.1.5, the variant that the updated (2023-2024) vaccine is designed to protect against. The spike protein is what our immune system targets when a virus enters our bodies. Our immune systems are primed to protect us through immunity gained from vaccines and previous infections. In theory, variants with multiple changes in the spike protein could increase the possibility of escape from this immunity.

In the past year, several variants have had significant changes in their spike protein. Yet despite those changes, existing immunity from vaccines and previous infections still provides good protection. We don’t yet know how well existing immunity holds up against BA.2.87.1. However, our immune systems now have several years of experience with this virus and vaccines, generally providing protection against a wide range of variants.

No indication of increase in infections in South Africa

Data from the Republic of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases sentinel surveillance network indicate no detectable increase in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. Reports of COVID-19 cases to the World Health Organization (WHO) for this region remain low. (Recent data on COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are not available for South Africa.)

Impact on vaccines, treatments, and tests

It is too early to know how well current vaccines will work against BA.2.87.1. But recent experience with JN.1 suggests that the updated COVID-19 vaccine can help increase protection against a diverse range of variants. In addition, we expect treatments and testing to remain effective based on an analysis conducted by the SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group, a group of scientific experts representing multiple government agencies.

CDC’s current assessment of BA.2.87.1

  • CDC will closely monitor this variant given the large number of changes in the spike protein and the potential for escape from existing immunity from vaccines and previous infections.
  • The detection of BA.2.87.1 cases across three South African provinces over three months demonstrates that this variant can spread between people, unlike some other variants with many mutations.
  • However, few cases have been detected since the first specimen was collected in September, suggesting it does not appear to be highly transmissible so far.
  • Experience with BA.2.86 demonstrates that the ability of the virus to transmit can change quickly over time.
  • 2.86 spread relatively slowly, but JN.1, which resulted from a single mutation in BA.2.86, spread very quickly to become the dominant variant across the globe.
  • CDC has not yet detected any cases of BA.2.87.1 in the United States. CDC continues to track the appearance and spread of new variants through national genomic surveillance.
  • At this time, it is not known how well current vaccines will work against BA.2.87.1. CDC expects that the updated COVID-19 vaccine could increase protection, and that treatments and testing will remain effective against this variant.

Based on current information, the public health risk from BA.2.87.1 appears low. CDC is monitoring this new variant closely and will update as more information becomes available