What is COVID-22 and is it real?

COVID-22 is not an official term.

The term “COVID-22” originated from a quote by Sai Reddy, PhD, a Swiss Associate Professor of immunology in Zurich. In his interview with German newspaper Blick, Dr. Reddy commented on the potential for a more contagious, more deadly variant of SARS-CoV-2 that could emerge in 2022. This hypothetical super variant was dubbed “COVID-22” by non-scientific sources and went viral on Twitter. 

If a new SARS-CoV-2 variant did emerge in 2022, it would not be called COVID-22. 

The naming of the virus, disease, and variants associated with the ongoing pandemic goes through an official process. But what is the difference between SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, and Alpha? Let’s review. 

  • SARS-CoV-2 is the official term for the virus initially discovered in December 2019. It stands for “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” and was chosen by the World Health Organization according to the International Classification of Diseases. 
  • COVID-19 refers to the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. The name refers to the coronavirus disease first identified in the year 2019 and is associated with a range of possible symptoms.
  • Alpha is the name for one of the genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 that has emerged from natural, random mutations over time. Variants are classified by the CDC as variants of interest, of concern, or of high consequence, depending on changes to the transmissibility or virulence. Variants of concern receive an official label from the WHO. Previous iterations of the variant labels included alphanumeric lineages (e.g. B.1.1.7) or countries where the first samples were documented (e.g. the South African variant). Now, the new names follow the Greek alphabet.

There is no evidence that a future “super variant” exists.

As of September 23rd, 2021, there are two SARS-CoV-2 variants of interest (Lambda, Mu) and four variants of concern (Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta). The Delta variant, first identified in India in 2020, is 40-60% more transmissible and results in more severe cases than Alpha. More variants will surface in the coming years; however, not all new variants will become variants of concern. The good news is that mRNA vaccines can likely be quickly adapted to protect against new variants.

Last update: 31 August 2021, 18:45 ET

Science review: ERS