Coronavirus: New omicron subvariants account for 60% of current COVID-19 cases

Two new omicron subvariants that appear to be more adept at dodging immunity together are making up more than half of the COVID-19 cases in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The new omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are responsible for 30.9% and 31.9%, respectively, of the cases in the United States.

According to the agency, the cases rose quickly since early November.

Dr. David Weber of the University of North Carolina Medical Center told MedPage Today that the potency of the subvariants is likely attributed to ineffective immune responses from either having a prior COVID-19 infection or a COVID-19 vaccination.

“The bottom line is those variants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, because they escaped immunity from natural infection ... we’ll expect to see increasing proportions of them over the next couple of months,” Weber told MedPage Today.

“A model from Europe suggested that by December 1, [the variants] would be more than 50%, and they were correct,” he added. “And they suggest by January 1, more than 80% of the circulating variants will be BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.”

According to health officials, the new subvariants appear to be highly transmissible but do not seem to be causing a more severe illness.

“These subvariants — obviously, we’re tracking them very closely. The good news is, even if you see a diminishing of our vaccines, they’re still effective against these subvariants — way more effective than the original vaccine,” Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said last week.

“There’s always a caveat here of, like, you know, things out of left field, you can’t predict, and you can’t — but nothing I have seen in the subvariants makes me believe that we can’t manage our way through it effectively, especially if people step up and get their vaccine.”

Both Moderna and Pfizer, the companies that developed and produced the mRNA versions of the COVID-19 vaccines, have said their bivalent booster protects against omicron subvariant BQ.1.1.

According to the CDC, symptoms of BQ.1, BQ.1.1, and other COVID-19 variants include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea