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Petrie Dish: What you need to know about COVID FLiRT variants

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FOTOMONTAGE, Neue Corona-Variante KP.2, Flirt, Symbolfoto *** FOTOMONTAGE, New Corona variant KP 2, Flirt, symbol photo
IMAGO/Christian Ohde
via Reuters
New Corona variant KP 2, FLiRT

New COVID variants have emerged as dominant strains as summer begins. UT Health San Antonio professor and infectious disease specialist and hospital epidemiologist at University Health Dr. Jason Bowling calls them the FLiRT variants because of their unique mutations.

“FLiRT stands for two distinct mutations,” Bowling said. “So it's an F for an L and an R for a T, and these two mutations in KP.3, KP.2, KP.1, have led to them becoming the new top variants.”

The FLiRT variants, KP.3, KP.2, and KP.1, make up more than 60-percent of new COVID cases in the U.S. right now, rapidly pushing out the last dominant variant, JN.1.

“It's thought that maybe these mutations allow them to evade the immune system, and that's why they may be a little bit more transmissible,” Bowling said, “and [that’s] what might be driving this increased activity we're starting to see.”

The next boosters from Moderna and Pfizer will target FLiRT variant KP.2, which is a subvariant of JN.1. JN.1 is an Omicron subvariant, as was the XBB.1.5 strain, which was the target of last fall’s booster. However, JN.1 and XBB are not part of the same sub lineage, and the FLiRTs are even more distant from the strain used to develop the last booster.

With a potential COVID surge possible before a new booster is developed, should people consider getting another XBB shot?

“I think that's a good question,” Bowling said. “I think a lot of people have already made the decision. The people that were interested in the vaccine got it, and then the people that didn’t are probably going to be holding out.”

Is that smart or should you get another shot? For more on the potential summer COVID surge and the new “FLiRT” variants, listen to host Bonnie Petrie's conversation with Dr. Jason Bowling.