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SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Interest and Concern naming scheme conducive for global discourse

Our take —

The Virus Evolution Working Group of the World Health Organization established a new naming system specifically for SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest and concern based on the Greek alphabet. New variant labels will be designated by a centralized global authority (the World Health Organization), will avoid names associated with people or places, and will avoid complex alphanumeric designations that are difficult to remember and prone to error. The WHO names for the current VOCs are: Alpha (UK variant, B.1.1.7), Beta (South Africa variant, B.1.351), Gamma (Brazil variant, P.1), and Delta (India variant, B.1.617.2).

Study design

Other

Study population and setting

This report announces a new naming scheme for SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest and concern. It was published by a group convened and led by the Virus Evolution Working Group of the World Health Organization. This working group specifically tracks variants that may provide a selective advantage to the virus (variants of interest and concern; VOI and VOC) and identified four challenges in naming these variants for the purposes of global tracking: (1) there are three existing nomenclature systems for naming SARS-CoV-2 lineages, none of which was designed specifically to track VOIs and VOCs. (2) There is no central authority responsible for naming these variants, resulting in confusion regarding which nomenclature system to use. (3) The existing alphanumeric naming schemes are confusing and liable to misreporting and misunderstanding. (4) Using the name of the place where a VOI or VOC was first identified as its name is both misleading and potentially stigmatizing, and should be avoided.

Summary of Main Findings

The group convened by the Virus Evolution Working Group established a naming system for officially designated VOIs and VOCs based on Greek alphabet letters. These labels will be linked to the existing three genetic-based nomenclature systems and updates will be published regularly by the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO names for the current VOCs are: Alpha (UK variant, B.1.1.7), Beta (South Africa variant, B.1.351), Gamma (Brazil variant, P.1), and Delta (India variant, B.1.617.2).

Study Strengths

NA

Limitations

NA

Value added

This report announces a new nomenclature system for SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest and concern.

This review was posted on: 13 June 2021