The Rise and Fall of Covid-19 Infections in the United States and Europe: The New Scrabble Variants, and the Prevalence of Coronaviruses
In the United States, these are BQ.1, BQ.1.1, BF.7, BA.4.6, BA.2.75 and BA.2.75.2. There is a new wave of cases in Singapore because of the rising variant of XBB. In the UK and Europe, there are cases that are rising.
They use high scores in the board game like Q, X, and B, and that is what Dr. Peter Hotez believes they are, as the Scrabble variant.
As the US moves into the fall, Covid-19 cases are dropping. Normally, that would be a reason for hope that the nation could escape the surges of the past two pandemic winters. The downward trend is feared to be reversing itself thanks to this gaggle of new variant.
The BQs each caused just 6% of new infections in the US last week, but in recent weeks, the share of new Covid-19 infections caused by these viruses has doubled every six to seven days – a rapid rate of growth against BA.5, which is already a highly fit virus, says Dr. Anthony Fauci, who directs the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The vaccine protects against the original strain of the coronaviruses as well as the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants.
The poor uptake of the new boosters, combined with the immune evasiveness of the new variants and the waning of population immunity, is almost surely a recipe for rising cases and hospitalizations in the weeks ahead.
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Though they each descend from slightly different branches of the Omicron family tree, these new offshoots have evolved to share many of the same mutations, a phenomenon known as convergent evolution.
The experts think this means we have entered the new phase of the evolution of the viruses, one in which we will see circulation of several different versions at the same time.
According to Nathan, this is likely to happen because there are several co-circulating, semi-dominate lineages going into the winter season.
“That’s because with convergent evolution, perhaps several different lineages can independently obtain similar transmissibility levels versus a single new variant taking over.
The flu and the Respiratory syncytial V are the main types of pathogens that usually happen this way. Most of the circulating virus has high fitness now that it has adapted well to human transmission.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the Covid-19 response technical lead for the World Health Organization, said Wednesday that the large mix of new variants was becoming more difficult for WHO to assess because countries were dialing back on their surveillance.
“So we need to be prepared for this. Countries need to be in a position to conduct surveillance, to deal with increases in cases and perhaps deal with increases and hospitalizations. We do not see a change in severity yet. She said that our vaccines remain effective, but that we have to remain alert.
For now, the Omicron subvariant BA.5 still holds the top spot in the US. According to theCDC, it caused over 70% of new infections last week in the US and it is quickly being outcompeted by other sublineages.
Fauci told CNN that most people think that they will be a substantial proportion in the middle of November, and have bumped BA.5 off as the dominant variant.
Genetic drift resulted in these different versions of the viruses being descended from them. So they share many parts of their genomes with that virus.
Their changes aren’t on the scale of what happened when the original Omicron arrived on the scene in November 2021. The strain that came out of genetic left field was long gone and had left researchers and public health officials scrambling to catch up.
“We have a BA.5 bivalent updated vaccine as a booster that we’re pushing people to do. It’s matched against the still-dominant variant, which is BA.5, and almost certainly will have a reasonably good degree of cross-protection against the BQ.1.1 and the others, and yet the uptake of these vaccines, as we are already in the middle of October, is disappointing,” he said.
According to the latest data from the CDC, 14.8 million people have gotten an updated bivalent booster six weeks into the campaign promoting it. About 10% of the population is eligible to get one.
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The scientist who monitors the variant at the Institute said that he expected the wave to be significantly bigger than the BA.5 wave. There is a chance that this winter’s surge won’t reach the heights of the Omicron wave.
People who haven’t had an updated booster for their vaccine are at risk of re Infections and breakthrough infections due to the genetic changes these variants share.
For people with immune function that’s been blunted by drugs, antibody therapies are very important. They are the same people who do not respond well to vaccines.
“So even if we got money today, it would take us many months to bring a monoclonal into the marketplace, and we don’t have the money today anyway,” Jha told CNN.
Some parts of the Covid-19 response may be done to get out of the business of buying vaccines and therapies and pass the costs on to consumers and insurers. The needs on the ground and the realities of the virus have to be taken into account in the process.
He says current realities require that the government continue to incentivize the production of new therapies, and he expects that the Biden administration will again try to ask Congress to pass more funding to do that.
Health experts voiced concern Wednesday over the rapid growth of the new Omicron sublineage XBB.1.5, advising the public to stay informed but not alarmed as they work to learn more.
Van Kerkhove noted that XBB. 1.5 is the most transmissible form of Omicron to date, as it has spread to at least 29 countries.
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Jha noted that effective tools to avoid severe Covid-19 infections include rapid tests, high-quality masks, ventilation and filtration of indoor air, oral antiviral pills and updated vaccines.
There will soon be more data on how well the vaccines do against XBB.1.5, suggesting that the effectiveness of the vaccine is being studied.
She said the WHO is working on a risk assessment for this sublineage and hopes to publish it within a few days. The group’s technical advisers are looking at both real-world data on hospitalizations and lab studies to assess severity.
In March 2020, as a mysterious respiratory virus was sweeping the globe, researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee tracked down some of the first known Covid-19 patients in North America and asked them for blood samples.
When the doctors shipped the blood to Nashville, they had to send it to a lab for analysis, so the team from Commodores took the blood and put it to work. In particular, the Vanderbilt team was looking for neutralizing antibodies—those capable of binding to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and preventing it from entering cells and causing infection.
“We had been seeing the data,” says Robert Carnahan, associate director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center. We mourned the loss of Evusheld and were ready for it to happen. It was the last drug designed to fight Covid-19.
The problem is that the antibodies bind to a small portion of the virus called the Receptor binding domain. This part has changed frequently, with new variant and subVariants that can no longer be recognized or mitigated by current monoclonal antibodies.
In November 2022, the FDA revoked the authorization of bebtelovimab, the last of the Covid treatment antibodies, saying the drug was not expected to neutralize Omicron subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, which made up more than 57 percent of cases at the time. Those subvariants have been quickly supplanted by another, XBB.1.5, which made up around two-thirds of cases as of the beginning of February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.