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What are FLiRT COVID variants and how are they different from previous strains? | Vopbuzz.com

So-called FLiRT variants of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19 have become the dominant forms of the virus circulating around the world this year, according to the World Health Organization.

The name FLiRT is an acronym for the locations of mutations that the variants share on the virus’s spike protein. One of them, called KP.2, has become the most commonly circulating variant in the United States over the past month, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here’s what you need to know about FLiRT.

How do FLiRT variants differ from previous variants?

The FLiRT variants, which also include the KP.2 parental lineage JN.1, have three key mutations in their spike protein that may help them evade antibodies, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Are FLiRT variants more contagious or cause more severe disease?

Dr. Aaron Glatt, chief of infectious diseases at Mount Sinai South Nassau Hospital in Oceanside, New York, and a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America, said he has seen no evidence of a surge in cases or hospitalizations based on the data he tracks and the experiences of his patients.

“There have been some significant changes in the variants, but I think it hasn’t been as significant recently, probably because of the immunity that many people already have” from previous illnesses and vaccinations.

CDC data show that COVID-related hospitalizations have declined in recent weeks, and the number of patients in emergency departments who test positive for COVID has remained virtually unchanged over the past month.

The data show that COVID case rates are also declining year over year. COVID hospitalizations have dropped by more than half compared to last year, and the amount of the antiviral drug Paxlovid, which is currently being prescribed to treat COVID-19, has dropped by about 60% compared to last year, according to analyst notes.

Do current vaccines work against Flirt virus strains?

Existing vaccines should still have some effectiveness against new strains, Glatt said.

Since 2022, health regulators have asked vaccine makers to develop new versions of COVID-19 vaccines to better target circulating variants. Last month, Europe’s regulator said vaccine makers should target the JN.1 variant. U.S. experts and regulators will meet to discuss vaccine development on June 5, after postponing a meeting from May 16 to allow more time to “receive surveillance data and other information.”

The makers of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines — Pfizer, partner BioNTech and Moderna — say they are waiting for a June 5 meeting before agreeing on the designs of their next vaccines.

Novavax, which makes a more traditional protein-based vaccine that takes longer to produce, has begun rolling out its JN.1 vaccine in line with recommendations from European regulators.

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