Covid omicron XBB.1.5 is one of the variations that are on the rise in the United States, accounting for around 41% of new cases there, according to news agency CNBC. Scientists have raised the alarm about this variant.
According to the study, compared to other sub-variants, the Covid omicron XBB.1.5 variant appears more successful at binding with cells and is highly immune evasive. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released statistics on Friday showing that the number of Covid cases brought on by the XBB.1.5 had increased over the previous week.
Since the XBB subvariant family has multiple mutations, scientists and public health officials have closely monitored it for months. These changes might make the Covid-19 vaccinations, notably the omicron boosters, less effective and result in even more breakthrough infections.
In August, XBB was found for the first time in India. There and in Singapore, it swiftly grew in power. Several subvariants, including XBB.1 and XBB.1.5, have been developed from it.
Experts say on the Omicron XBB variant
According to Johns Hopkins University virologist Andrew Pekosz, XBB.1.5 differs from other members of its family because of an additional mutation that improves its ability to connect to cells.
The virus “needs to stick tightly to cells,” Pekosz continued, “and that could help the virus be a bit more efficient in infecting humans.”
Data from Yunlong Richard Cao, a researcher and assistant professor at Peking University, were posted on Twitter on Tuesday and showed that XBB.1.5 is superior to XBB.1, a variation that was highly immune evasive, in attaching to cells through a critical receptor. In addition, it avoids blocking antibodies.
Researchers from Columbia University cautioned that the emergence of subvariants like XBB might “further undermine the efficiency of existing COVID-19 vaccines and result in a spike of breakthrough infections as well as re-infections” in research published earlier this month in the journal Cell.
The Evusheld antibody cocktail, which many patients with weakened immune systems rely on for protection against Covid infection since they don’t mount a robust response to the vaccinations, is likewise resistant to the XBB subvariants.
The scientists called the XBB subvariants’ resistance to infection- and vaccination-related antibodies “alarming.” The researchers discovered that although the BQ subvariants are likewise very immune evasive, the XBB subvariants were even better at avoiding protection from the omicron boosters.
The author of the Columbia study, Dr. David Ho, concurred with the other researchers that the fact that XBB.1.5 attaches to cells more effectively than its XBB cousins likely gives it a growth advantage. Ho added that XBB.1.5 is rough as immunologically evasive as XBB and XBB.1, two of the subvariants that have so far shown to be the most resistant to the antibodies that guard against infection and immunization.
During a White House press briefing in November, Fauci told reporters, “You may expect some protection, but not the best protection.”
Fauci stated that the Singapore situation, where there was a significant increase in XBB infections but no corresponding increase in hospitalizations, gave him hope. Pekosz claimed that the combination of XBB.1.5 and holiday travel might increase cases in the US. However, he said that the boosters seem to be averting severe illness.
The vaccination and the bivalent booster are continuing to protect against hospitalization with these variations, according to Pekosz. It highlights the necessity to provide a booster dose, especially to vulnerable people, to give ongoing protection from life-threatening illnesses with these new variations.
U.S. health officials have frequently urged people in their golden years to ensure they are up to date on their vaccinations and to seek treatment with the antiviral Paxlovid if they get a severe infection.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, an expert in infectious diseases at the University of Minnesota, said in a recent interview with Reuters that “unfortunately, maybe the deadliest kind that the world is battling right now is XBB.” Osterholm further pointed out that seven of the ten states in the US that are seeing an increase in XBB cases and hospitalizations are located in the Northeast.
In addition, Osterholm noted that the Northeast is home to seven of the ten states in the United States with the highest rates of hospitalizations and cases of XBB.
Together, XBB and XBB.1.5 recombinants of the BA.2 variety accounted for 44.1% of all national cases during the week ending December 31. XBB.1.5 accounted for 21.7% of all patients during the week ending December 24.
Cases of the XBB subtype have increased in certain Asian countries, including Singapore. This week, it made up 3.6% of all patients in the U.S., down from 4.2% the week before. Starting this week, the agency submitted data for the two subvariants individually.