Two new omicron subvariants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, are rapidly gaining traction within the US, collectively accounting for 27% of infections as of October 29. Both are descendants of BA.5, the omicron variant that has dominated world wide for some months.
Although they seem like commonest within the US at this stage, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have additionally been recognized within the UK and a number of other nations in Europe, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) having categorized BQ.1 as a variant of curiosity.
Based on modelling estimates, the ECDC expects that by mid-November to the start of December 2022, greater than 50% of COVID infections might be as a consequence of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. By the start of 2023, they may account for greater than 80% of instances.
When we hear about new COVID variants, three key questions spring to thoughts: is it extra transmissible in contrast with earlier variants? Can it trigger extra extreme sickness? And can it escape our immune response? Let’s check out what we all know thus far.
1. Are these variants extra transmissible?
Transmissibility refers back to the capability of a pathogen to have the ability to be handed from one individual to a different. This attribute is decided by many elements referring to the pathogen, its host and the setting.
At this stage, we now have restricted knowledge on how transmissible these two new variants are. But BQ.1.1 seems to be extremely transmissible, with social media experiences calculating it took solely 19 days to develop eight-fold from 5 sequences to 200 sequences.
Although BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 at the moment comprise a small proportion of all COVID instances globally, in some nations the proportion of instances is growing at a charge which suggests it’s extra transmissible than different circulating variants.
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2. Can they escape our immune system?
The ECDC suggests the noticed improve within the progress charge of BQ.1 might be pushed primarily by immune escape. This refers back to the virus’ capability to evade our immune response from prior an infection or vaccination.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 comprise mutations to the spike protein, a protein on the floor of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) which permits it to connect to and infect our cells. These mutations embody K444T, N460K, L452R and F486V. BQ.1.1 accommodates an extra mutation, R346T, additionally discovered within the BA.5 variant.
These mutations have been related to vital immune escape and antibody evasion.
One examine indicated that it’s possible that immunity induced by an infection from earlier omicron sublineages and vaccination is not going to present broad safety towards BQ.1.1 an infection. However this examine is a preprint, that means it’s but to be peer-reviewed.
Although the present COVID vaccines and former infections present good safety towards extreme illness, they don’t present full safety from an infection or reinfection. Likewise, whereas they cut back COVID transmission, they don’t stop it solely. And these new variants seem to have the very best capability for immune evasion but. That stated, COVID vaccines will proceed to supply robust safety towards extreme illness and loss of life.
3. Can they trigger extra extreme sickness?
We nonetheless don’t know a lot in regards to the severity of sickness related to BQ.1 or BQ.1.1. But based mostly on the restricted knowledge obtainable, the information is nice on this entrance. There’s no proof that BQ.1 is related to extra extreme sickness than BA.4 and BA.5.
Worryingly although, a current preprint examine means that BQ.1.1 might be immune to Evusheld, an antibody remedy designed to guard people who find themselves immunocompromised and don’t reply as effectively to COVID vaccines.
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Beyond the US and Europe, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have additionally been recognized in different nations round on the earth together with New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore and Canada, the place they’ve been detected in wastewater. Sewage samples typically give us a great indication of doable COVID spikes.
The continued emergence of latest COVID variants signifies that the virus may be very a lot nonetheless with us, and quickly evolving. As we face resurgences heading into winter within the northern hemisphere, we have to preserve our eyes on these and every other new variants, and punctiliously observe how they behave.
We additionally want research which take a look at how effectively the brand new bivalent vaccines – these which goal omicron alongside the unique pressure of SARS-CoV-2 – work towards BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.
Manal Mohammed doesn’t work for, seek the advice of, personal shares in or obtain funding from any firm or organisation that may profit from this text, and has disclosed no related affiliations past their educational appointment.
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