New Omicron Subvariants BQ.1, BQ.1.1 Spread Amid Concerns of Next Coronavirus Wave | Health News
A pair of omicron subvariants that are descendants of BA.5 are making inroads in the U.S. variant scene, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 were responsible for more than 11% of COVID-19 infections this week, according to CDC’s weekly variant proportions update posted on Friday. The pair was responsible for less than 1% of infections a month ago.
The pair was previously aggregated with BA.5 in the CDC update but have now been separated, decreasing BA.5’s prevalence to about 68% of coronavirus cases this week.
The quick rise of BQ.1.1, which has mutations that likely make it particularly good at evading prior immunity, “sets it up to be the principal driver of next US wave in the weeks ahead,” according to Eric Topol, founder of the Scripps Research Translational Institute.
U.S. health officials have been pushing updated booster shots that target omicron and its subvaraints ahead of an expected coronavirus surge in the fall and winter. Coronavirus cases in Europe are on the rise, which typically predicts an increase in the U.S. in a matter of weeks.
“We’re likely to see a new, substantial increase in infections here in the United States in the later fall and winter because we’ve seen it each of the last two years,” White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha recently said.
According to Jha, the updated shots “should provide a much higher level of protection against infection, against transmission, and certainly against serious illness and hospitalizations and deaths.”
The Food and Drug Administration this week expanded authorization of the shots to children as young as 5 years old, citing concerns over exposure risks as kids are back in school and resuming other activities.
But uptake of the shots so far has been low, fueled by confusion over eligibility and fatigue over COVID-19 messaging in general.
The Biden administration, however, is adamant that there is still time to turn the rollout around.
“In the beginning when the vaccines rolled out in September, we expected September to be a month where it would just start picking up,” Jha said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “And then, again, we’d really expect vaccination to start happening in October.”