The highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 variant remains dominant in the United States. However, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is beginning to take a back seat to other newer variants.
In the agency’s latest variant proportion estimates, BA.5 slipped to 67.9 percent of all cases, down from about 80 percent at the start of October. Meanwhile, BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and BF.7 are causing roughly 17 percent of new infections. BA.2.75 and BA.2.75.2 are responsible for about 3 percent. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 also appear on track to overtake the BA.4.6 strain, currently accounting for 12.2 percent of infections.
“When you get variants like that, you look at what their rate of increase is as a relative proportion of the variants, and this has a pretty troublesome doubling time,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, told CBS News.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert also expressed concerns that the variants’ mutations might evade certain medications like Evusheld, a key antibody drug used to help protect immunocompromised individuals.
“That's the reason why people are concerned about BQ.1.1, for the double reason of its doubling time and the fact that it seems to elude important monoclonal antibodies,” he said.
“The bad news is that there's a new variant that's emerging and that has qualities or characteristics that could evade some of the interventions we have,” he said. “But, the somewhat encouraging news is that it's a BA.5 sublineage, so there are almost certainly going to be some cross protection that you can boost up.”
According to CDC data, more than fourteen million Americans have received the new boosters. Dr. Ashish Jha, head of the Biden administration’s Covid task force, noted in a White House press briefing last week that he is anticipating more people getting inoculated this month before the start of the holiday season.
“If you are up to date with your vaccines and if you get treated if you have a breakthrough infection, your risk of dying from Covid is now close to zero,” Jha said.
“What happens in the weeks and months ahead will have a large impact on how the winter goes and really what happens this winter is largely up to us as the American people,” he added.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.