Health Medical

Immune-evasive Omicron strains BQ1, BQ1.1 spreading fast


HQ Team

October 15, 2022: The new Covid-19 variants of the Omicron strain – BQ.1 and its spawn BQ.1.1 – are fast spreading and form 10 per cent of all new infections across the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

BQ.1 has further mutated into BQ1.1, which is highly immune-evasive. The two new combinations have arisen from the parent variant BA.5. BQ.1 was first named by scientists in early September based on sequences spotted across the U.S. and several other countries.

“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 nation’s top infectious disease expert and the president’s chief medical adviser, told CBS News on Friday.

Immunity against antibodies and medicines

There are worries that the variants might be immune to the medications like Evusheld, which is a key antibody drug used to help protect against the virus. 

“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,” said Fauci.

The FDA recently issued a warning that high-risk patients treated with Evusheld will now be vulnerable to the disease.

The news of the BA and BQ variants is concerning as health authorities fear another resurgence in the infection in the fall and winter. BQ.1 variants have already outpaced many rival strains in European nations from England to Germany, which have already seen renewed waves begin.

“As much as you want to feel good about the fact that cases are down, hospitalizations are down, we don’t want to declare victory too prematurely. And that’s the reason why we’ve got to keep our eye out on these emerging variants,” Fauci said.

A spokesperson for AstraZeneca said they did not currently have data on how BQ.1 might impact its drug. 

Experts have cited the “sizable number of unique mutations” in variants like BQ.1 that could evade the immunity that people have from prior infections and boosters. This has fueled fears of a surge. 

“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. 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,” Fauci said.

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