What’s the difference between a new variant vs. a new strain of COVID-19?

National News

AUSTIN (Nexstar) — As new variants of COVID-19 begin popping up in Texas, doctors are explaining the difference between new variants and new strains.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes they can be used interchangeably by the media, there are some key differences between the two in the medical field.

“The variants have less of a mutation,” Dr. Scott Milton, an infectious disease specialist with Texas Tech Physicians, explained.

He said more mutations of the virus would be necessary to classify it as a new strain.

“Another way of you might think of that is how it invokes an antibody response. You would classify it as a different strain if, in fact, there was a significantly different antibody response,” Milton said.

The new variants we’re seeing now are still triggering the same antibody response in the body. This is why the vaccines currently being distributed are still expected to be effective against them, even if they do require an extra booster.

“The new variant would have to be enough, and so significantly different, that they would consider making it a new strain. And of course, the implication there is that you would need to alter that vaccine,” Milton said.

There’s also no way of guessing how long it could take before a variant mutates enough to become a strain.

“There’s no way of telling,” Dr. Charles Lerner with the Texas Medical Association’s COVID-19 Task Force said. “Could be tomorrow. It could be in five years.”

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