UPDATE (8/26): This story has been updated with clarification from Dr. Reddy.
The term “COVID-22” went viral in late August thanks to a tweet from Insider Paper, which shared an article from its website with the headline “New variant dubbed ‘Covid-22’ could be more deadly than Delta, expert warned.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the delta strain is the most contagious version of COVID-19 yet, so the dire announcement sounded alarms for many. The original tweet received tens of thousands of likes, retweets and replies.
Is there a new “super variant” of COVID-19 called “COVID-22” that’s more dangerous than the delta variant?
No. There isn’t currently a COVID-19 variant called “COVID-22,” and no variant that currently exists is believed to be more dangerous than the delta strain.
WHAT WE FOUND
The Insider Paper article is based on a German-language interview that Swiss newspaper SonntagsBlick conducted with immunologist Dr. Sai Reddy. Insider Paper’s quotes are translated and match the translation provided by the international arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation.
While Insider Paper’s tweet calls this a “new super variant,” Dr. Reddy didn’t say a dangerous variant called COVID-22 had already emerged. He just said it could emerge in the future.
“It is very likely that a new variant will emerge and that we will no longer be able to rely on vaccinations alone,” Dr. Sai Reddy told SonntagsBlick.
“There is no such thing as COVID-22,” said Dr. Stuart Ray, vice chair of medicine for data integrity and analytics at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “So far, we don't have a variant that is really rising to the level of the one that's going to replace delta. But there's lots of surveillance in many places to make sure that we don't miss something like that coming.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has not added anything new to its variant tracking list in over a month. The lambda variant was the last variant to rise to a level of concern to warrant WHO naming it when it did so in June.
In an emailed statement to VERIFY, Dr. Reddy confirmed he was commenting on the potential of COVID-19 to mutate in early 2022 in a way that could lead to a further increase in transmission.
“I think that's a real concern, and that we may see new variants arise,” Dr. Ray said. “We haven't seen something that really supersedes delta yet, but we're all concerned that that could occur if we don't limit the spread and evolution of this virus.”
But if such a variant were to arise, it wouldn’t be called COVID-22.
“That’s not how that works,” Dr. Ray said.
The CDC explains the official name of the disease is “coronavirus disease 2019.” That’s shortened to COVID-19: the “CO” stands for “corona,” the “VI” stands for “virus,” the “D” is for “disease” and the “19” is for the year it first arose, 2019.
“As long as it's this lineage of virus that we're dealing with that arose in late 2019, then it's COVID-19,” Dr. Ray said.
That’s why it’s the “delta variant of COVID-19” and not “COVID-21.” The WHO set the standard for naming COVID-19 variants, which are named after letters in the Greek alphabet.
"I of course agree that Covid-19 is the proper and correct name for the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 (and it’s variants)," Dr. Reddy clarified. "I used the nicknames of 'Covid-21' and 'Covid-22' to refer to Covid-19 in 2021 and Covid-19 in 2022."
"What I meant to convey was that as SARS-CoV-2 is literally evolving, so should our response to the pandemic also evolve," Dr. Reddy continued.
Dr. Reddy explained that the delta variant forced countries to change their approach to COVID-19 and put the world in a new phase of the pandemic. If the virus continues to spread and evolve, it may do so in a way that once again forces society into changing its handling of the pandemic.
While Dr. Reddy gave this potential new phase of COVID-19 the nickname "COVID-22," there would have to be a totally new virus for a disease to get that name officially.
“Theoretically, there could be a new coronavirus that has never been recognized in humans before that causes infectious disease,” Dr. Ray said. “And if it arose in 2022, then we might call that COVID-22.”
“But right now COVID-22 is the product of a fertile imagination, which may be well-informed by the way that viruses can evolve, but was misnamed because that's not how we name these variants,” Dr. Ray continued.