WHO Renames COVID-19 Variants With Greek Letter Names to Avoid Stigma

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced on May 31 a new naming system for COVID-19 variants to avoid stigma and to make them easier to say and remember.

WHO created a new system using the letters of the Greek alphabet to name COVID-19 variants “which will be easier and more practical to discussed by non-scientific audiences” after convening an expert group of scientists and communication practitioners “to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatizing labels” for the variants.

The United Kingdom variant (B.1.1.7) is now called alpha. The South African variant (B.1.351) is now called beta. The Indian variant (B.1.617.2) is now called delta, and the Brazilian variant (P1) is now called Gamma.

Naming a virus according to the place where it reportedly first emerged is often inaccurate, such as with the case of the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic, in which its origins are unknown. It can also damage the reputations of those places, according to WHO.

“The naming system aims to prevent calling COVID-19 variants by the places where they are detected, which is stigmatizing & discriminatory,” WHO said.

The new system also does not replace the established scientific nomenclature system for tracking mutations. It will remain in use for the scientific community.

If all letters of the Greek alphabet have been officially used up, WHO will announce a new naming system, WHO COVID-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove told STAT News in an interview.


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