According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two Omicron subvariants that are resistant to key antibody treatments are on the rise in the United States.
Subvariants BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 now account for 27% of infections in the US, a significant increase from the previous week when they accounted for about 16% of new cases, according to CDC data released Friday.
Omicron BA.5, while still the dominant variant, is declining every week. According to the data, it now accounts for about 50% of infections in the US, up from 60% the week before.
President Joe Biden this week warned people with compromised immune systems that they were particularly at risk this winter because antibody treatments against emerging subvariants weren’t effective.
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 as two injections that people aged 12 and over with moderately or severely compromised immune systems take to prevent Covid-19. Bebtelovimab is a monoclonal antibody that is taken to treat Covid after infection.
Biden urged people with weakened immune systems to consult their doctors on precautions to take. dr Ashish Jha, head of the White House Covid task force, said the US is running out of options to treat the vulnerable because Congress has not committed more money to the nation’s Covid response.
“We had hoped that as time went on as the pandemic progressed and as our fight against this virus progressed, we would expand our medicine cabinet,” Jha told reporters this week. “Due to a lack of congressional funding, this medicine cabinet has actually shrunk and that is putting vulnerable people at risk.”
It’s unclear how well the new boosters will protect against variants like BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Jha said the boosters should offer better protection than the old vaccines because these subvariants are descended from BA.5 found in the updated vaccines.
Two independent studies from Columbia and Harvard found this week that the omicron boosters don’t fare 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, FDA and the White House Covid Task Force believe the new shots will prove more effective because they are better matched to circulating variants than first-generation vaccines.
“Based on what we know about the immunology and science of this virus, these new vaccines can be expected to provide better protection against infection, better protection against transmission, and sustained and better protection against serious disease,” he said Jha told reporters in September.
Jha urged all eligible Americans to get the Omicron booster and their flu shot by Halloween so they are protected when families gather for the holiday.