A 'highly contagious' COVID subvariant has scientists worried about the 'next wave of infections': report

A 'highly contagious' COVID subvariant has scientists worried about the 'next wave of infections': report

President Joe Biden drew some criticism from health experts in September after saying, during an interview with CBS News’ “60 Minutes,” that “the pandemic is over.” Biden acknowledged that “we still have a problem with COVID,” but Dr. Megan L. Ranney — an emergency care physician in Providence, Rhode Island — responded, in a September 18 tweet, that although the “fatality rate is way down,” it is inaccurate to say that the pandemic is “over” when there are still “400 deaths a day.”

Nonetheless, Biden and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s vaccination push has been a success in the United States. Although it is quite possible to be infected with COVID-19 even if one has been fully vaccinated and received booster shots, most of the “breakthrough” infections are not life-threatening. Biden and Fauci were both infected with COVID-19 despite being fully vaccinated, but they suffered only minor illnesses.

In an article published by the Daily Beast on October 11, reporter David Axe takes a look at a new COVID-19 subvariant that doctors and scientists are worried about: BQ.1.1.

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“As the wave of COVID infections from the highly-contagious BA.5 subvariant finally subsided back in late July, new subvariants were already competing for dominance — and the opportunity to drive the next wave of infections,” Axe explains. “A little over two months later, epidemiologists are close to naming a winner. In the United Kingdom, infections from a highly mutated subvariant called BQ.1.1 are doubling every week — a rate of growth that far exceeds other leading subvariants. In the U.S., BQ.1.1 is spreading twice as fast as its cousin subvariant BA.2.75.2.”

Axe continues, “That means BQ.1.1 is very contagious. But that’s not the subvariant’s most alarming quality. What’s most worrying is that it also evades certain antibodies. In fact, BQ.1.1 seems to be the first form of COVID against which antibody therapies — evusheld and bebtelovimab, for instance — don’t work at all.”

Axe adds, however, that “the best vaccines still work against BQ.1.1.”

“Highly contagious and immune-evasive, BQ.1.1 is poised to take advantage of an increasingly vulnerable global population as antibodies from vaccinations and past infection gradually wear off in coming months,” Axe reports. “The question isn’t whether a fresh wave of infections is coming. It’s exactly when.”

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A common talking point among anti-vaxxers is that if COVID-19 vaccines worked, there wouldn’t be so many “breakthrough” infections. But vaccines, whether they’re for COVID-19 or the flu, don’t promise to totally eliminate “breakthrough” cases. Rather, vaccines are effective when: (1) infections are less likely to occur, and (2) the infections that do occur tend to be less severe. President Biden, Fauci, First Lady Jill Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Vice President Kamala Harris were all “breakthrough” COVID-19 cases, but none of them had really serious infections or needed to be hospitalized.

Axe reports, “Fortunately, the latest mRNA boosters from Moderna and Pfizer are still highly effective against BQ.1.1. There’s a good reason for this. Moderna and Pfizer formulated the new bivalent boosters specifically to provide immunity against BA.5. BQ.1.1 is a form of BA.5, albeit with additional mutations. Of course, the bivalent boosters only help if you get them.”

COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019. According to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, the pandemic has since killed more than 6.5 million people worldwide, including over 1 million in the United States.

READ MORE: 'Nothing to hide': Fauci reacts to GOP pledge to investigate his handling of the COVID pandemic

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