- XBB is a new version of Omicron that escapes existing treatments and immunity.
- It is spreading rapidly in Singapore, and virus watchers fear it could spread to the United States.
- BQ.1.1 is also emerging. Experts say: prepare for more COVID infections this winter.
As Halloween Approaches, Whispers of Another ‘Nightmare’ COVID Variant on the Way Are Scary journalists and Wall Street analysts.
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 evasive Omicron subvariants on the rise worldwide,” infectious disease expert Dr. Celine Gounder, Senior Fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Insider. .
But “among the new variants, XBB has the strongest immune evasion properties,” Morgan Stanley market forecasters said in a note Thursday.
Given that we’ve now seen almost three full years of COVID variants – and almost a year of different Omicrons before XBB comes out – how much should we really be worried about this new version of the virus?
Experts say we should expect many more infections this fall and winter, including infections among vaccinated and boosted Americans. But there are simple things you can do to prepare to fight XBB and other evasive COVID variants on the horizon.
What is XBB?
XBB 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 evade how we get immunity from vaccines and past infections, with changes to the spike protein,” the researcher said. UC Berkeley infectious disease expert John Swartzberg. San Francisco Chronicle.
It remains to be seen whether XBB will truly dominate the landscape of COVID infections in the US this winter, or if it will be just one option among Omicron’s wide array of sub-variants.
So far it doesn’t even make a dent in the radar US virus watchers, compared to other Omicron. It is possible that the BA.5 sub-variant, BQ.1.1.which is already on the rise in Europe, may prove to be more of a concern for Americans than XBB ever will be.
Professor Moritz Gerstung, a computational biologist in Germany, said recently 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 currently the dominant version of COVID in the United States.
Why is everyone freaking out about XBB?
In Singaporereinfections and hospitalizations are both up, driven by XBB – although local trends suggest this version of the virus could also be a little milder than BA.5, with a 30% lower risk of hospitalization.
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 for those most at risk, including people over 50 and people with compromised immune systems, to get boosted immediately. if they haven’t already been this fall.”
New bivalent boosters should withstand XBB
Remember: it’s still Omicron, and the new boosts 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 breakthrough infections despite vaccination” over the next few winter months, she added, whether with XBB or another evasive new variant.
According CDC data, less than 15 million Americans have received an updated reminder so far this fall – that’s less than 5% of the country, so there’s room for improvement with both:
Gounder said she knows Americans are fed up with the mitigations, but said “high-quality masks will be important in reducing transmission, especially in indoor public spaces” this winter.