Omicron BQ variants predominate, XBB circulates at low levels

Omicron BQ variants predominate, XBB circulates at low levels
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A person receives a test for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., Dec. 22, 2021.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

Omicron BQ coronavirus subvariants have become prevalent in the United States as people gather and travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, putting people with weakened immune systems at risk.

BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 cause 57% of new infections in the United States, according to data released Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The once-dominant omicron BA.5 subvariant now accounts for only one-fifth of new Covid cases.

According to the National Institutes of Health, BQ subvariants are more immune to and likely resistant to the main antibody drugs used by people with weakened immune systems, such as Evusheld and bebtelovimab. This includes patients undergoing organ transplants and cancer chemotherapy.

Currently, there are no substitutes for these drugs. In a speech in October, President Joe Biden told people with weakened immune systems to consult their doctors this winter and take extra precautions.

🇧🇷new options may render some existing defenses ineffective for the immunocompromised. Unfortunately, that means you may be at particular risk this winter,” Biden said.

The XBB subvariant also currently circulates at low levels and accounts for approximately 3% of new infections. White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said in a briefing Tuesday that XBB is more immune-evading than BQ subvariants.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the new boosters developed against omicron BA.5 are probably not effective against infection and mild illness from CKD. But shots should be protected from serious diseases, he said. Singapore has seen an increase in cases of pneumonia, but not a large increase in hospitalizations, he said.

Moderna and Pfizer said last week that their boosters elicit an immune response against BQ.1.1, a descendant of the BA.5 subvariant.

Fauci said in a press briefing that public health officials believe there is enough vaccination, immunization and immunity to prevent a repeat of the unprecedented Covid surge that occurred last winter when the virus first arrived.

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