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 first identified in other countries have since been detected in Alberta and around the world. Alberta is monitoring for variants spreading in our province.
Reduce the risk
Variants of concern can be prevented the same way as the original virus:
Variants in Alberta
To date, 5 variants of concern have been identified in Alberta. The B.1.1.529 (Omicron) 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.
First identified in the United Kingdom, research has shown this variant spreads more easily and can cause more severe illness in comparison to the original COVID-19 strain.
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.
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 Alpha variant and causes an increased risk of hospitalization and re-infection of people who have previously tested positive for COVID-19.
First identified in South Africa, this is the dominant variant in Alberta. Emerging evidence suggests there is an increased risk of transmission and reinfection with this variant, so people who have been previously infected with COVID-19 could be reinfected more easily. There is early evidence of reduced risk of disease severity compared to the Delta variant.
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, AstraZeneca and Janssen vaccines currently available in Alberta offer protection against infection and 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:
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:
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