The World Health Organization says JN.1 strain of COVID-19 is a ‘variant of interest’. Here’s what we know

The World Health Organization says JN.1 strain of COVID-19 is a ‘variant of interest’. Here’s what we know
  • PublishedDecember 20, 2023

A new COVID variant, JN.1, has been classified as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization (WHO). 

So, what do you need to know?

A better escape artist, but not more severe

There’s no evidence JN.1 poses a greater health risk than other COVID-19 variants. 

Two experts who spoke to Reuters said the strain could better evade the immune system and was more transmissible than other variants. 

But they said it didn’t show any signs of more severe disease. 

“While there might be more cases with the variant, JN.1 doesn’t pose a greater risk,” virologist Andrew Pekosz, from the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said. 

An illustration of a viral particle.
The JN.1 subvariant is the latest offspring from parent strain BA.2.86.(Supplied: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reiterated there was “no evidence” the JN.1 strain posed an increased risk to public health. 

Where did this new variant come from?

JN.1 was previously classified a variant of interest by default because its parent , BA.2.86 —also known as the Pirola variant — has also been classified that way.

But now the WHO has determined JN.1 is worthy of its own classification.

There is only a single change between JN.1 and BA.2.86 in the spike protein, according to the CDC. 

The WHO said current vaccines would continue to protect against severe disease and death from JN.1.

Variant taking hold in the US 

The CDC said the subvariant was the “fast-growing variant” in the US earlier this month. 

It said JN.1 made up an estimated 15—29 per-cent of cases, according to its latest projections.

JN.1 was first detected in the US in September, according to the CDC.

Last week, China detected seven infections of the COVID subvariant.

JN.1 has been detected in Australia since mid-October, Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data modelling shows.

A person with a face mask sits as someone puts a bandage at the top of their arm.
The CDC is encouraging US residents to remain up to date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters. (Unsplash: CDC)

What are its symptoms?

The CDC is yet to see if JN.1 will produce different symptoms from other COVID-19 variants.

It says, generally, variants seem to carry the same range of symptoms. 


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