Omicron sub-variants resistant to major antibody treatments are on the rise

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two omicron sub-variants resistant to major antibody treatments are on the rise in the United States.

Subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 now account for 27 percent of infections in the United States, a significant jump from the week before when they made up about 16 percent of new cases, according to CDC data released Friday.

Omicron BA.5, although still the dominant variant, decreases every week. It now accounts for about 50 percent of infections in the United States, down from 60 percent the week before, according to the data.

President Joe Biden this week warned people with compromised immune systems that they were at particular risk this winter because antibody treatments are not effective against emerging subvariants.

BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are likely resistant to Evusheld and bebtelovimab, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Evusheld is an antibody cocktail given in two injections that people 12 years of age and older with moderately or severely compromised immune systems take to prevent Covid-19. Bebtelovimab is a monoclonal antibody taken to treat Covid after an infection.

Biden urged people with weak immune systems to consult their doctors about precautions to take. Dr Ashish Jha, head of the White House Covid task force, said the United States is running out of options to treat the vulnerable because Congress has failed to transfer more money for the nation’s response to Covid.

“We had hoped that over time, as the pandemic progressed, as our fight against this virus continued, we would expand our medicine cabinet,” Jha told reporters this week. “Due to a lack of congressional funding, the medicine cabinet has actually shrunk and this puts vulnerable people at risk.”

It is unclear how well the new boosters will protect against variants like BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Jha said boosters should offer better protection than older vaccines because these sub-variants are descended from BA.5, which is contained in the updated vaccines.

Two independent studies from Columbia and Harvard this week found that omicron boosters didn’t perform much better than the old shots against BA.5. The Food and Drug Administration said the studies were too small to draw firm conclusions.

The CDC, the FDA, and the White House Covid task force believe the new vaccines will prove more effective because they adapt better to circulating variants than first-generation vaccines.

“It is reasonable to expect, based on what we know about the immunology and science of this virus, that these new vaccines will provide better protection against infection, better protection against transmission, and continued and better protection against serious disease,” Jha told reporters in September.

Jha has asked all eligible Americans to get the omicron booster and flu shot by Halloween so that they are protected when families start getting together for the holidays.