Boost for corona wave feared by further ommicron sublines
Could there be a new corona variant of the virus soon that will turn the previous circumstances upside down? Some of these variants have an altered genetic makeup that allows them to evade antibodies from vaccinated and recovered people better than the previously prevalent variants.
sThey have cryptic names made up of letters and numbers: BA.2.75.2 for example. Or BQ.1.1. Behind it are sublines of the ommicron variant of the coronavirus. Such pathogens threaten to bolster the fall wave even more, some researchers warn. Because some of these variants have such a modified genetic makeup that they can evade antibodies from vaccinated and recovered people better than the previously prevalent variants. This could spread them faster. These fears are hardly reflected in previous data on virus variants discovered in Germany, according to the weekly report from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Thursday evening.
The most recent data on detected variants included therein relates to the penultimate week: at that time, a random sample showed that the omicron subline BA.5 is still controlling what happens. For weeks, their shares have been at 95 to 97 percent. According to the RKI, the sub-line BA.2.75 and its derivatives have been spreading more and more around the world since June. However, the share in the sample for Germany is still less than 1 percent.
Review: Since the end of 2021, the corona pandemic has been defined by the ommicron variant and its sublines. She had followed Delta and Alpha. Even though it has been a long time since such a completely new variant that is classified as worrying, the virus continues to mutate. But different from the beginning. In an interview published by his university, virus evolution specialist Richard Neher from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel speaks of a more gradual developmental dynamic that is more interesting than the giant leaps the virus made earlier.
British virologist Tom Peacock was recently quoted in a Nature article as saying that there is now an unprecedented variety of variants from different branches of the Omicron family tree. Strikingly, many of these ommicron descendants independently developed the same mutations in the spike protein. This is where the virus enters human cells.
Cornelius Römer, one of Neher’s employees, tweeted a few days ago that BQ.1.1 would set off a wave in Europe and North America before the end of November. It relied on the rapid increase of sequences in a short period of time. For Neher, it’s also likely that the wave will get an extra boost in a few weeks – be it eventually via BQ.1.1 or a mix of multiple variants, as he announced at dpa’s request.
“Winter is coming and it seems really tiring”
Charité vaccine researcher Leif Sander put it similarly on Twitter: In addition to the BA.5 autumn wave, which is currently building up rapidly, you will probably soon have to deal with a variant that strongly evades the existing immune response: seems to be getting really tiring.”
However, this so-called immune flight does not mean that the disease course will inevitably become more difficult again and that a new pandemic is on the way. When asked, immunologist Christine Falk stated that the mutations in BQ.1.1 indicate a possibly more effective infection, but not an undermining of all defenses. Based on the spike protein alone, there is no evidence of a change in disease burden. Protection against serious diseases – according to immunologists, it should generally withstand the recommended vaccinations in people with healthy immune systems. Experts see the threat of staff shortages as problematic if a large number of people become infected at once.
The World Health Organization (WHO) emphasized that BQ.1.1 was one of 300 subvariants observed. Whatever variant comes, the WHO swears, as always, that there are tools to tackle the virus. These simply have to be applied: for example, more vaccinations, masking where necessary, keeping a distance, ventilating.
The number of people who tested positive in Germany continues to rise sharply, according to the RKI weekly report with data from last week. However, it is not easy to interpret the origin of the serious disease course: the RKI writes that there is an increase in the number of cases of serious respiratory infections that need to be treated in hospital. However, the authors limit that “this also includes cases that come to the hospital because of another illness or require intensive care and where the Sars-CoV-2 diagnosis is not the focus of the disease or treatment”.
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