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WHO Hosts Meeting on New COVID Variant 11/26 06:11

   Advisers to the World Health Organization are holding a special session 
Friday to flesh out information about a worrying new variant of the coronavirus 
that has been detected in South Africa, though a top expert says its impact on 
COVID-19 vaccines may not be known for weeks.

   GENEVA (AP) -- Advisers to the World Health Organization are holding a 
special session Friday to flesh out information about a worrying new variant of 
the coronavirus that has been detected in South Africa, though a top expert 
says its impact on COVID-19 vaccines may not be known for weeks.

   The technical advisory group on the evolution of COVID-19 was meeting 
virtually to discuss the so-called B.1.1.529 variant that has caused stock 
markets to swoon and led the European Union to recommend a pause in flights to 
southern Africa.

   The group could decide if it's a "variant of concern" -- the most worrying 
type, like the well-known delta variant -- or a "variant of interest," and 
whether to use a Greek letter to classify it.

   "We don't know very much about this, yet. What we do know is that this 
variant has a large number of mutations, and the concern is that when you have 
so many mutations it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," said Maria 
Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, in a social-media chat Thursday.

   Fewer than 100 full genome sequences of the variant are so far available, 
she said.

   "It will take a few weeks for us to understand what impact this variant has 
on any potential vaccines, for example," Van Kerkhove said.

   Reached by phone, advisory group chairman Dr. Anurag Agrawal, the director 
of Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology in New Delhi, said it was too 
soon to comment on the variant. He said that more data was needed before he 
could add to the information that was already available.

   "This is one to watch. I would say we have concern, but I think you would 
want us to have concern," Van Kerkhove said. "We have people who are on this."

 
 
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