A new COVID-19 omicron subvariant, XBB 1.5, is quickly emerging as the dominant strain in confirmed cases across the U.S.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that, as of January 7, nearly 40 percent percent of new cases nationwide are linked to the subvariant, which was discovered in the fall of 2022.
Though XBB 1.5 has not been proven to be more severe than other variants and the symptoms experienced are similar, experts at Johns Hopkins University say the variant is more transmissible than other strains and has an increased ability to evade immunity.
“The XBB family of variants emerged a few months ago and caught virologists’ attention because it contains more mutations to evade immunity than any other variant,” a release from Johns Hopkins University states. “The XBB.1.5 variant has a mutation virologists believe is helping the virus better bind to cells and thus be more transmissible.”
According to Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, while updated COVID-19 vaccines are targeted to attack the original strain and Omicron variant, they provide a lesser degree of protection against XBB 1.5.
“Although the updated vaccines are substantially lower in neutralization titers against XBB than to Wuhan, based on previous scientific studies, the amount of neutralization is in the range that is expected to provide some degree of protection against XBB,” Califf wrote on Twitter. “Throughout the course of the pandemic, booster vaccines have been effective in restoring protection against variants, especially in elderly individuals who are at much higher risk of serious outcomes.”
Antiviral treatments such as Pfizer’s Paxlovid pills are still authorized for emergency use by the FDA and are encouraged for those experiencing the effects of the subvariant.
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