Variants are viruses that have changed or mutated while reproducing inside an infected person’s cells. Variants can spread to others and may continue mutating as they move from person to person. It is normal for viruses to mutate over time.
Variants of concern can spread more easily. They can also cause more serious illness that could result in more hospitalizations and deaths as they become common in the community.
COVID-19 variants of concern were first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and India. These strains have since been detected in Alberta and in countries around the world.
Alberta is monitoring for variants spreading in our province. Confirmed cases are updated daily.
Reduce the risk
Variants of concern can be prevented the same way as the original virus:
Variants in Alberta
To date, 4 variants of concern have been identified in Alberta. The B.1.1.7 variant is the dominant strain in Alberta.
Anyone who has been infected with a variant strain will test positive for COVID-19. Positive tests are screened again for all variants to determine the exact strain.
B.1.1.7 Variant (United Kingdom)
First identified in the United Kingdom, this is now the most common variant of concern in Alberta.
Research to date has shown this variant spreads more easily and can cause more severe illness in comparison to the original COVID-19 strain.
B.1.351 Variant (South Africa)
First identified in South Africa, research has shown this variant spreads more easily than the original COVID-19 strain and may be capable of re-infecting people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19.
P.1 Variant (Brazil)
First identified in Brazil, research has shown this variant spreads more easily than the original COVID-19 strain and is capable of re-infecting people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19.
First identified in India, research has shown this variant spreads more easily than the B.1.1.7 (UK) variant and may be capable of re-infecting people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19.
What we know
Knowledge and understanding of the COVID-19 variants is evolving rapidly. Scientists and public health officials around the world are studying variant strains and how the current vaccines may help protect against them.
Current evidence suggests the variants of concern have one or more of the following traits:
- are more contagious and spread more easily than the original strain
- cause more severe illness, which could result in more hospitalizations and deaths
- have the same symptoms as the original virus, including cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose, and sore throat (see the full list of symptoms)
Vaccine effectiveness and protection
The Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines currently available in Alberta offer protection against infection and may offer protection against severe outcomes with variants. However, the level of protection may vary depending on the variant and the number of doses received.
Data on vaccine effectiveness against variants of concern in Alberta is updated regularly.
For more information on specific effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, refer to the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations.
The best defense against COVID-19 and all variants of concern continues to be:
- getting vaccinated as soon as you're eligible
- following all public health measures
- isolating or quarantining according to requirements if you test positive, are a close contact, or return from international travel
Case study: How one case turned into many
One Albertan returned from travel with a case of a COVID-19 variant of concern. Instead of quarantining alone for 14 days following return from travel outside Canada, the infected traveller socialized with a friend during quarantine.
It kicked off a chain of COVID-19 infections that spread far beyond that one case. This is a real case, discovered during contact tracing.
Learn more about COVID-19 variants: