A person is tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as the Omicron variant coronavirus continues to spread in Manhattan, New York, United States, December 22, 2021.
andrew kelly | Reuters
The omicron BQ coronavirus subvariants have become dominant in the United States as people congregate and travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, putting people with weakened immune systems at increased risk.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are responsible for 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 a fifth of new Covid cases.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the BQ subvariants are more immune evasive and likely resistant to major antibodies, such as Evusheld and bebtelovimab, used by people with weakened immune systems. This includes patients who have undergone organ transplants and cancer chemotherapy.
There are currently no substitutes for these drugs. President Joe Biden, in an October speech, told people with weakened immune systems they should see their doctor and take extra precautions this winter.
“New variants may render some existing protections ineffective for immunocompromised people. Unfortunately, that means you could be at particular risk this winter,” Biden said.
The XBB subvariant is also circulating at a low level at the moment, causing around 3% of new infections. Dr. Anthony Fauci, during a White House briefing earlier this week, said XBB is even more elusive than the BQ subvariants.
Fauci said the new boosters, which were designed against omicron BA.5, are unlikely to be as effective against mild XBB infections and illnesses. But the injections should protect against serious disease, he said. Singapore saw a spike in XBB cases, but there was no big increase in hospitalizations, he added.
Moderna and Pfizer said last week that their boosters induced an immune response against BQ.1.1, which is a descendant of the BA.5 subvariant.
Fauci, at this week’s press conference, said public health officials believed there was enough immunity from vaccination, boosting and infection to prevent a repeat of the unprecedented surge. of Covid which occurred last winter when omicron arrived.