BQ.1.1: Expert explains how dangerous the ommicron variant is for Germany

Could soon replace BA.5: How threatening is BQ.1.1 for Germany? That’s what the virologist says

It is currently the fastest growing ommicron variant in Germany: BQ.1.1. Their share is still small, but the increase is significant. Virologist Friedemann Weber explains to FOCUS online how dangerous the mutation is and what worries him most.

According to experts, the new Corona variant BQ.1.1 is the one that can trigger the new wave before the end of November. Scientists have already discovered the first genetic traces in Germany.

What is the potential of BQ.1.1? FOCUS online asked Friedemann Weber, director of the Institute of Virology at Justus Liebig University in Giessen:

How dangerous do you think BQ.1.1 is?

“BQ.1.1 has five new mutations associated with antibody escape,” explains Weber. This means that the variant can partially escape the immune system. “In addition, it is currently the fastest growing virus variant in Germany. While their percentage of cases is relatively small and BA.5 remains dominant, this could change quickly as the BQ1.1 curve steepens significantly.”

“It is still unclear whether BQ.1.1 or another new variant will eventually dominate in the winter,” Weber said. “However, it is very likely that absenteeism and occupancy rates of the clinics will be high again. Moreover, it is impossible to foresee to what extent new variants can trigger Lung Covid, a consequence of even mild infections that have received far too little attention until now.”

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Friedeman Weber is professor of virology and director of the associated institute at Justus Liebig University in Giessen. There he conducts research into corona and flu viruses, among other things.

Will the variant give us a strong autumn/winter wave?

Cambridge researcher Cornelius Römer expects a wave “before the end of November”. “At least BQ.1.1 has the tools to spread quickly“, confirms virologist Weber. “But it is also possible that a completely different variant emerges from one corner of the world, which then wins the race.”

That’s why BQ.1.1 is called zo

New Corona variants are named according to the rules of the Pango nomenclature, which is set in 2020 to follow them. Based on two variants (A and B), their sub-variants are designated by numbers. However, to avoid confusing these designations, a letter is used after the third digit instead of the fourth, in this case “Q”. The alternate name for BQ.1.1 would otherwise be: B.1.1.529.

How concerned are you about this convergent evolution of the ommicron sublines that some experts are describing?

“What distinguishes the current situation from the past is that there is not one variant that achieves aerial dominance because of its unique genetic makeup,” explains Weber. “Rather, there is a swarm of different sublines, some of which have acquired the same mutations independently of each other. However, BQ.1.1 is the only variant with five new mutations in the spike protein.”

The virologist adds: “What worries me most is that about ten percent of the 60+ age group and more than 20 percent of the general population have not received any vaccinations. Immunity after infection fluctuates and is therefore much less reliable. Another aspect is that with each new variant there is a risk that therapeutic antibodies will lose their effectiveness.”

How well do the vaccines still work against the variant?

“Until now, vaccinations have provided very reliable protection against serious courses, even with new variants. That will be no different with BQ.1.1 etc.”, judges Weber. Because the vaccination protection against deeper penetration into the body is mediated by T-cell immunity, against which there are few or no Sars-CoV-2 escape mutations.

Which vaccine should I get a boost with?

For those for whom there is vaccination advice, there is much to be said for the modified vaccine. Virologist Weber explains: “BQ.1.1 is descended from BA.5, and many of its relatives are either also in this direct line or at least from the family tree of their ancestor, the variant BA.2. As such, a BA.5 booster shot can be helpful.

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