Variants emerge as a result of naturally occurring mutations in viruses. For example, the flu virus mutates often, which is why doctors recommend a new flu vaccine each year.

Researchers monitor all COVID-19 variants but may classify certain ones, like Omicron and Delta, as “variants of concern.” This is determined by which variants spread more easily, cause more severe cases than other variants, or evade vaccine protection.

As long as COVID-19 spreads, mutations and new variants are expected to occur. The best way to protect yourself against COVID-19 variants is to stay up to date with vaccines. Being vaccinated decreases the likelihood you will get sick and makes it less likely you will need hospitalization or die if you get infected.

Updated November 22, 2023