A stealthy new variant of the coronavirus is spreading rapidly, scaring Wall Street scientists and analysts, but experts say there’s reason for optimism

XBB is a descendant of two different BA.2 variants and is more immuno-evasive than other versions of Omicron we’ve seen before.Brandon Bell / Getty Images

  • XBB is a new version of Omicron that is evading existing treatments and immunity.

  • It is spreading rapidly in Singapore, and virus watchers fear it may spread to the United States.

  • BQ.1.1 is also emerging. Experts say: prepare for more COVID infections this winter.

As Halloween approaches, the murmurs of another “nightmare” COVID variant coming are frightening both reporters and Wall Street analysts.

The new variant is called XBB and is already triggering a new wave of infections and hospitalizations in some South Asian countries, including India and Singapore.

XBB is just one of “many more immune and evasive Omicron sub-variants on the rise worldwide,” infectious disease expert Dr. Celine Gounder, Senior Fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told Insider.

But “of the new variants, XBB has the most significant immune evasion properties,” Morgan Stanley market forecasters said in a statement Thursday.

Given that we’ve now seen nearly three full years of COVID variants – and nearly a year of several Omicrons before XBB emerged from them – how worried should we, really, be about this new version of the virus?

Experts say we should expect far more infections this fall and winter, including infections in vaccinated and boosted Americans. But there are a few simple things you can do to prepare for fighting XBB and other evasive variants of COVID on the horizon.

What is XBB?

XBB is a recombinant variant, which means it is a combination of two other Omicron BA.2 subvariants (specifically, BA.2.10.1 + BA.2.75).

Like other Omicrons we’ve seen before, XBB is “finding ways to circumvent the way we get immunity from previous vaccines and infections, with changes on the spike protein,” the infectious disease expert from the San Francisco Chronicle told the San Francisco Chronicle. UC Berkeley, John Swartzberg.

It remains to be seen whether XBB will actually dominate the COVID infection landscape in the US this winter, or whether it will be just one option among Omicron’s extensive smorgasbord of subvariants.

So far, it hasn’t even dented the US virus watcher’s radar, compared to other Omicrons. It is possible that the sub-variant BA.5, BQ.1.1., Which is already on the rise in Europe, may prove to be of more concern to Americans than XBB ever will.

Professor Moritz Gerstung, computational biologist in Germany, recently said on Twitter that we could be in a “tight race” between BQ.1.1 and XBB for the next few months. Both have a slight growth advantage over BA.5, which is the dominant version of COVID right now in the United States.

Why is everyone freaking out about XBB?

cases rising rapidly singapore

cases rising rapidly singapore

Our world in data / Johns Hopkins University CSSE COVID-19 data

In Singapore, reinfections and hospitalizations are both on the rise, driven by XBB, although local trends suggest that this version of the virus may also be slightly milder than BA.5, with a 30% lower risk of hospitalization.

Both XBB and BQ.1.1 are also showing resistance to monoclonal antibodies, a treatment used for COVID patients.

That’s why Gounder insists that, whatever happens next, “it’s really important that people at higher risk, including people aged 50 and over, and immunocompromised people, get a boost right away if they haven’t already been. Autumn”.

The new bivalent booster shots should hold up against XBB

Remember: this is still Omicron and the new boosts from Pfizer and Moderna point to BA.4 and BA.5, which are related to XBB.

This means that existing vaccines should still “protect against serious illness, hospitalization and death,” Gounder said. “But I expect many breakthrough infections despite the vaccination” in the coming winter months, she added, both with XBB and some other new evasive variant.

According to data from the CDC, fewer than 15 million Americans received an upgraded booster this fall, which is less than 5% of the country, so there is room for improvement on both:

Gounder said he knows Americans are tired of the mitigation measures, but says “high-quality masks will be important to reduce transmission, especially in indoor public spaces” this winter.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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