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XBB.1.5: A new Covid variant spreads across the US. What do you need to know?

Key Points

  • New Covid variants are sweeping across the United States
  • XBB.1.5 currently dominates over others like BQ.1.1 and BQ.1
  • According to WHO, XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible COVID variant
  • Experts recommend staying up to date on all vaccines and boosters

The holidays may have ended, but COVID continues to loom large. As you navigate the new year, the last thing you need is to worry about yourself or a loved one falling sick.

But new COVID variants are on the loose, hospitalizations are on the rise, and you may naturally wonder:

  • What is XBB.1.5? What are BQ 1.1 and BQ 1?
  • What are the symptoms of XBB.1.5? How do they differ from previous ones?
  • Will COVID vaccines work against the new variants?
  • How should you time your boosters?
  • How can you protect your loved ones from the new COVID wave?

Here’s all you need to know.

XBB.1.5: A new Covid variant spreads across the US. What do you need to know?

Key Points

  • New Covid variants are sweeping across the United States
  • XBB.1.5 currently dominates over others like BQ.1.1 and BQ.1
  • According to WHO, XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible COVID variant
  • Experts recommend staying up to date on all vaccines and boosters

The holidays may have ended, but COVID continues to loom large. As you navigate the new year, the last thing you need is to worry about yourself or a loved one falling sick.

But new COVID variants are on the loose, hospitalizations are on the rise, and you may naturally wonder:

  • What is XBB.1.5? What are BQ 1.1 and BQ 1?
  • What are the symptoms of XBB.1.5? How do they differ from previous ones?
  • Will COVID vaccines work against the new variants?
  • How should you time your boosters?
  • How can you protect your loved ones from the new COVID wave?

Here’s all you need to know.

What is XBB.1.5? What are BQ.1.1 and BQ.1?

XBB.1.5 is the dominant COVID strain in the United States right now, according to CDC data. XBB.1.5 is responsible for 40% of all COVID cases and 70% of all cases in the Northeast region. It is the latest variant of Omicron.

At the same time, two other Omicron variants, BQ.1.1 and BQ.1, continue to infect people across the country. CDC estimates show that over 25% of COVID cases are from BQ.1.1 and 18% from BQ.1.

What are the symptoms of XBB.1.5? How do they differ from previous variants?

According to Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Solv, “There are many unknowns. So far, there is no evidence that XBB.1.5 causes more severe illness than previous Omicron variants.”

He adds, “However, some experts are concerned that the new Omicron subvariants may evade our natural immunity, vaccine protection, and established antibody treatment.”

While it’s too early to understand the details of XBB.1.5 and its symptoms, we can study its precursor, like the XBB, for clues.

XBB, an Omicron variant, caused a COVID wave in Singapore and other countries at the end of 2022. The good news is that according to Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH), XBB does not seem to cause more severe illness than previous variants.

Will COVID vaccines work against the new variants?

The latest COVID booster is the bivalent COVID vaccine, informally known as the “Omicron booster.” This booster shot was developed after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested that drug manufacturers update their vaccines to protect against Omicron variants. During this time, BA.4 and BA.5 were the predominant strains.

However, the dominant strain in the US is not the XBB but the XBB 1.5 — a mutated version. A senior epidemiologist from the World Health Organization (WHO) and early reports from Peking University suggest that this version is more likely to evade our natural immunity than prior variants. Still, infectious disease experts recommend keeping up with your vaccine and booster schedules.

Does the bivalent booster vaccine work against XBB.1.5?

Let’s look at existing data for the bivalent vaccine:

  • On December 2, 2022, the CDC released the first human study on the vaccine. Researchers studied over 360,000 people and found that the bivalent mRNA booster offered “significant protection against symptomatic [COVID-19] infection” in people who had already received 2, 3, or 4 vaccine doses.
  • Preliminary antibody studies from Columbia University and Harvard showed that the bivalent booster’s protection is similar to that of the original booster shot. The booster increased the antibodies needed to fight against the Omicron variants. Note: These studies were preliminary, conducted in labs, and not peer-reviewed.

What do the experts say?

In November 2022, Dr. Anthony Fauci, outgoing director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), told reporters that it is important to get the newly released bivalent booster shot since our immunity wanes in time.

According to Andrew Pekosz from John Hopkins University, there may be an uptick in COVID cases because of holiday travel, but the bivalent booster appears to protect against hospitalizations.

Experts may disagree about the level of protection the bivalent boosters offer, but many (including the CDC) recommend staying updated with all eligible vaccinations and boosters.

How should you time your boosters?

During a virtual White House townhall, Dr. Ashish Jha, MD MPH, the White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator, said that getting the updated bivalent COVID-19 booster is the “single most important thing older adults can do to protect their health.”

If you already got COVID, Dr. Jha recommends waiting three months after a COVID infection. This is because you get some immunity from the illness itself. Getting a vaccine after those three months offers a boost to your immunity.

During the same townhall, Dr. Fauci stated that it is safe to get the flu shot together with the COVID-19 vaccine.

If you would like to learn more, talk to a healthcare provider about the new variants, the vaccine, and how they may affect you or a loved one. Solv can help you schedule a video visit or an in-person consultation with a licensed provider near you.

How can you protect your loved ones from the new COVID wave?

Says Dr. Rohatsch, “The bottomline is that the CDC recommends staying up to date with all recommended COVID-19 vaccinations, including the bivalent booster doses, if eligible. This could be a good way to protect yourself and loved ones from COVID-related hospitalizations and severe illness.”

The CDC also recommends preventive measures like:

  • Wearing a mask in crowded places
  • Isolating if you develop symptoms
  • Washing your hands well
  • Seek treatment when you need it
  • Avoid contact with people who have suspected or confirmed COVID-19

You may use Solv to schedule your vaccines or boosters. If you would like to talk to a healthcare provider about your options, Solv can help you find one near you.


Sources

Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

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