The next U.S. COVID wave is likely to be driven by “escape variants” - the "most antibody-evasive” strains ever tested
Two new Omicron offshoots are currently raising cause for concern as the XBB variant is driving COVID case surges across Singapore and Bangladesh while the B.Q.1.1 variant is causing an increase in COVID cases across the United Kingdom, where infections are doubling every week, and Europe where hospitalizations are increasing as the weather is cooling down.
While earlier sub lineages that were competing for post-BA.5 superiority in the U.S. had a few dominant variations, XBB and B.Q.1.1 now have at least six changes on the virus’s spike protein. According to Yunlong Richard Cao, an immunologist at Peking University in Beijing, they now classify as the "most antibody-evasive” strains ever tested.
One of the big concerns is that the elderly and immunocompromised tend not to produce as strong or as lasting an antibody response after vaccination or infection. Monoclonal antibody treatments have helped fill the gap and shield them from severe illness, but many of these treatments were dumped after preceding variants rendered them unusable, according to Yahoo News. Lab experiments have now shown that the remaining antibody therapies don’t work against XBB and B.Q.1.1.
West Coast Correspondent Andrew Romano writes: “For most U.S. residents, the new escape variants will be more of an inconvenience than a threat this winter. But even now, before they hit, nearly 400 (mostly older) Americans are still dying of COVID each day. That’s almost 150,000 annually - about three times the death count of a bad flu year. How much death are we willing to normalize? And how much more should we tolerate this winter?”
“Something is happening with SARS-CoV-2. Something big. Put it this way - there was a range of possible scenarios that we expected for the near future. Positive and negative. The amplitude of that range is getting much bigger. When scientists don’t know how to explain stuff, it is the responsible thing to say - We don’t know (yet). We can make contradicting hypotheses; we can make complicated maps & charts. But something is happening, much weirder than before. And we still don’t know what it means,” evolutionary biologist Shay Fleishon Tweeted earlier this month.
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