IT’S BEEN NEARLY four years since COVID-19 first brought the world to a standstill. In May of 2023, the World Health Organisation declared the pandemic officially over, but that doesn’t mean that COVID is dead. A new variant—with the standard un-catchy name of JN.1—has been making the rounds across Australia and the wider world, with the weekly number of people presenting to emergency departments in New South Wales with COVID-19 increasing to 1,400 last week.
This might mean nothing to you. You may have dismissed the dangers of COVID long ago. You may prefer to ignore new variants and write them off as harmless, as the alternative would require a return to the apocalyptic hellscape that was the years 2020 and 2021, which permanently altered the way society operated. But ultimately, the least you can do is stay informed about the potential risks of new variants. LuckIily for you, we’ve rounded up all the information you need to answer all your most burning questions. Read on for everything you need to know about COVID’s JN.1 variant.
What is JN.1?
JN.1 is a variant of COVID-19, meaning it mutated from a previous strain. JN.1’s predecessor was the Omicron variant BA.2.86—they’re really not trying to make these names stick. Omicron BA.2.86 was first discovered in July 2023 and immediately forced deeply buried lockdown memories to resurface, as the strain was reported to be more easily transmissible than previous variants. It wasn’t. The ominous Omicron scare calmed down fairly quickly, but its successor (JN.1), corrected Omicron’s biggest weakness.
Omicron failed to gain significant transmissible traction because it had problems sticking to cells. Viruses are smart, however, and due to a small alteration in its spike protein, JN.1 has remedied that weakness, becoming better at working around our immune systems and causing infections than its predecessors.
Is JN.1 more dangerous?
JN.1 is more transmissible than previous variants, which explains the spike in cases, and evidence suggests that it could also be more deadly. Experts say it’s difficult to measure the severity of COVID variants, as many infected patients have had COVID before, allowing their immune systems to better protect against new variants. On an even playing field though, studies are showing that JN.1 is deadlier than previous Omicron strains.
What are the symptoms of JN.1?
The symptoms of the JN.1 variant are similar to previous COVID strains. The most common symptoms include sore throat, congestion, runny nose, coughing, fatigue and nausea. JN.1 symptoms have been described as less severe than previous strains, making the variant more difficult to diagnose as it appears similar to the flu.
Do current vaccines protect against JN.1?
If by current vaccines you mean readily available boosters, then yes, current vaccines do protect against JN.1. The monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccine has been available to Australians since last year and was specifically designed to protect against Omicron variants. The vaccine offers strong cross-immunity between Omicron and JN.1. Although, just because you had a vaccine a few years ago, it doesn’t mean you’re still protected. Studies have shown that COVID vaccines are typically effective for around six months, then boosters are required to bolster immunity. Right now, the best way to protect yourself from JN.1 is to get the monovalent XBB.1.5 vaccine. Information on vaccine centres can be found here.