- XBB is a new version of Omicron that evades existing treatments and immunity.
- It’s spreading fast in Singapore, and virus watchers are worried it could spread to the US.
- BQ.1.1 is also emerging. Experts say: Get ready for more COVID infections this winter.
As Halloween approaches, the whispers of another “nightmare” COVID variant on the way are spooky reporters and Wall Street analysts alike.
The new variant is called XBB and is already triggering a new wave of infections and hospitalizations in some South Asian countries, including India and Singapore.
XBB is just one of “multiple more immune-evading Omicron sub-variants on the rise around the world,” infectious disease expert Dr. Celine Gunder, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Insider.
But “among the new variants, XBB has the most significant immune-evasion properties,” market forecasters at Morgan Stanley said in a memo on Thursday.
Given that we’ve now seen almost three full years of COVID variants, and almost a year of different Omicrons before XBB came out of them, how worried should we really be about this new version of the virus?
Experts say we should expect many more infections this fall and winter, including infections in boosted and vaccinated Americans. But there are a few simple things you can do to prepare to fight XBB and other elusive variants of COVID on the horizon.
What is XBB?
XBB it is a recombinant variant, meaning it is a combination of two other BA.2 Omicron sub-variants (specifically, BA.2.10.1 + BA.2.75).
Like other Omicrons we’ve seen before, XBB is “finding ways to circumvent the way we get immunity from vaccines and prior infection, with changes to the spike protein,” said John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley. San Francisco Chronicle.
It remains to be seen if XBB will truly dominate the US COVID infection landscape this winter, or if it will be just one option among Omicron’s vast buffet of sub-variants.
So far, it’s not even making a dent in the Radar of US virus watchers, compared to other Omicrons. It is possible that the subvariant BA.5, BQ.1.1.already booming in Europe, may become a bigger concern for Americans than XBB.
Professor Moritz Gerstung, a computational biologist in Germany, recently said on Twitter that we could be in a “close race” between BQ.1.1 and XBB for the next few months. Both have a slight growth advantage over BA.5, which is the dominant version of COVID right now in the US.
Why is everyone freaking out over XBB?
In Singaporereinfections and hospitalizations have increased, driven by XBB, although local trends suggest this version of the virus may also be somewhat milder than BA.5, with a 30% lower risk of hospitalization.
Both XBB and BQ.1.1 also show resistance to monoclonal antibodiesa treatment used for COVID patients.
That’s why Gounder insists that whatever happens next, “it’s really important that people most at risk, including people 50 and older and people who are immunocompromised, get boosters right away if they haven’t already.” this autumn”.
New bivalent booster shots should hold up against XBB
Remember: this is still Omicron, and new pushes from Pfizer and Moderna target BA.4 and BA.5, which are related to XBB.
That means existing vaccines should still “protect against serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Gounder said. “But I expect a lot of advanced infections despite vaccination” in the coming winter months, he added, either with XBB or some other elusive new variant.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, fewer than 15 million Americans have received an updated booster so far this fall; that’s less than 5% of the country, so there’s room for improvement with both:
Gounder said he knows Americans are tired of mitigation measures, but says “high-quality masks will be important in reducing transmission, especially in indoor public spaces” this winter.
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