Study: New Omicron Subvariants Pose Serious Threats to COVID-19 Vaccines

A new study suggests that the emerging Omicron subvariants BQ and XBB pose “serious threats” to current COVID-19 vaccines.

The study published in the journal Cell found that BQ.1, BQ.1.1, XBB, and XBB.1 are the “most resistant SARS-CoV-2 variants to date” and are “barely susceptible to neutralization,” including by the recently approved bivalent boosters against the Omicron subvariants BA.4/5.

The researchers examined blood samples from people who received three or four doses of the original COVID-19 mRNA vaccine, as well as those who got recently approved bivalent vaccine as a fourth dose, and individuals who had an infection from BA.2, BA.4 or BA.5 subvariants after vaccination.

“Together, our findings indicate that BQ and XBB subvariants present serious threats to current COVID-19 vaccines, render inactive all authorized antibodies, and may have gained dominance in the population because of their advantage in evading antibodies,” the study authors say.

The subvariants B1.11 and BQ.1 are now dominant in the US, accounting for 36,8% and 31,1% of cases, respectively. Meanwhile, the XBB subvariant is responsible for 4,7% of all cases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows.

Researchers, however, note that their study was conducted in a lab outside the living organisms. Therefore, the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against these subvariants needs to be assessed in clinical studies.

Another study published in Nature Medicine last week found that bivalent booster showed high efficacy against the Omicron subvariants BA.4/5 at 14 to 32 days after vaccination. However, it did not “produce robust neutralization” against the new variants, including BQ.1.1 and XBB.1.

“Our data support a vaccine update strategy that future boosters should match newly emerged circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants,” the authors concluded

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