Omicron Subvariants That Evade Immunity Causing Over 70% of New England Cases

BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 account for 60% of cases, with XBB responsible for another 11%

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Three omicron subvariants that more easily dodge immunity are now causing more than 70% of COVID-19 infections in New England, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This week's subvariant data shows that BQ.1.1 accounts for 31.7% of cases in the New England region, followed by BQ.1 at 29.6%. XBB, another immune-evading variant, is responsible for another 11% of cases.

Source: CDC

That largely mirrors the national figures, though XBB accounts for only 4.7% of coronavirus cases across the U.S.

Are COVID Boosters effective against the new subvariants?

Scientists have said the BQ and XBB subvariants are more adept at evading immunity from vaccination and infection than earlier versions of the virus. According to CNBC, they pose a significant threat to people with compromised immune systems because key antibody treatments are resistant to them.

The omicron boosters also trigger a weaker immune response against the BQ and XBB subvariants than they do to the previously dominant version of the virus, according to a recent study. The shots were designed against the BA.5 subvariant, which is now causing just 11% of infections in the U.S.

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, in a press conference last month, said the boosters will still provide protection against the more immune evasive subvariants, though not at an optimal level. Fauci said protection declines some with BQ.1.1, but drops multifold against XBB.

The Latest Massachusetts COVID Numbers

Here in Massachusetts, COVID infections and hospitalizations have been increasing since the Thanksgiving holiday, with Christmas and the New Year holidays just around the corner.

State health officials reported 7,499 new COVID-19 cases last week, up from 5,068 the previous week. The state's seven-day average positivity also rose to 7.85% Thursday, compared to 7.14% the week before.

COVID wastewater data from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has also been showing some increases, with the levels the highest they've been since late October, though in recent days it seems to be leveling out.

Risk levels remain low across much of New England, although much of eastern Massachusetts and western Connecticut are included in the CDC's medium-risk category in last week's county-wide report.

Will New England see another COVID surge?

Boston doctors say it's too early to tell if we're about to experience another surge.

"What does this portend? Does this mean that we're going to see some big increase in cases as has been the situation in the past?" Brigham and Women's Dr. Daniel Kuritzkes told NBC10 Boston last week. "We'll know in another couple of weeks whether we're really in the early phases of another big winter outbreak or whether this is going to turn out to be a blip in retrospect."

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