The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a new COVID variant dubbed BQ.1 and a descendant called BQ.1.1 have gained traction in the U.S., accounting for 11.4% of new cases across the nation in the week ending Oct. 15.
The two variants are lineages of BA.5, the omicron subvariant that remains dominant but has shrunk to account for just 67.9% of circulating variants, the agency said in a Friday update. The CDC had previously combined BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 with BA.5 cases because the numbers of the new variants were so small. BQ.1 was first identified by researchers in early September and has been found in the U.K. and Germany, among other places.
New York and New Jersey currently have the highest proportion of BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 infections, at about 20% of overall cases, according to CDC estimates.
“When you get variants like that, you look at what their rate of increase is as a relative proportion of the variants, and this has a pretty troublesome doubling time,” Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said in an interview with CBS News.
Adding to concerns, the variant seems “to elude important monoclonal antibodies,” he added.
Fauci is confident that Moderna MRNA, +3.92%, as well as Pfizer PFE, +1.84% and German partner BioNTech BNTX, +2.45%, will be able to update boosters to target the new subvariant. “The somewhat encouraging news is that it’s a BA.5 sublineage, so there are almost certainly going to be some cross-protections that you can boost up,” he said.
So far, only 14.8 million people living in the U.S. have taken advantage of the new bivalent boosters that were authorized by the Food and Drug Administration in late August. That’s equal to about 7% of the 209 million who were initially eligible.
The FDA authorized the Pfizer booster for use in people aged 12 and older and the Moderna booster for adults aged 18 and older. Last week, the FDA added children aged 5 to 11 to the Pfizer program and children aged 6 through 17 to the Moderna one.
Experts are concerned that the low number of vaccinations is due to a sense that the pandemic is over and no longer poses a major risk for most people. U.S. cases are steadily declining and now stand at their lowest level since mid-April; however, the true tally is likely higher than the official count, because many people are testing at home, where data are not being collected.
The daily average for new cases stood at 37,649 on Sunday, down 19% from two weeks ago, according to a New York Times tracker.
The daily average for hospitalizations was down 5% to 26,475, while the daily average for deaths was down 8% to 374.
But cold weather is expected to bring a new wave of cases, and hospitalizations are rising again in much of the Northeast, the Times tracker is showing.
“That’s the thing that’s so frustrating for me and for my colleagues who are involved in this, is that we have the capability of mitigating against this. And the uptake of the new bivalent vaccine is not nearly as high as we would like it to be,” said Fauci.
Other COVID-19 news you should know about:
• Moderna and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which is supplying vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, have agreed to cancel remaining orders under their 2022 COVID-19 vaccine agreement given “sufficient supply.” The biotechnology company has supplied Gavi with nearly 70 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines, in addition to facilitating the donation of more than 100 million doses. Moderna and Gavi said they will create a new framework that enables Gavi to buy up to 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in 2023.
• The World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United Nations Environment Program and the World Organization for Animal Health on Monday launched a new initiative that aims to address health threats to humans, animals, plants and the environment. The One Health Joint Plan of Action “aims to create a framework to integrate systems and capacity so that we can collectively better prevent, predict, detect, and respond to health threats,” the four agencies said in a statement.
• China is doubling down on its zero-COVID strategy as a historic Communist Party congress opens in Beijing, BBC News reported. Zero COVID was a “people’s war to stop the spread of the virus,” said President Xi Jinping as he kicked off the meeting. There is increasing public fatigue over lockdowns and travel restrictions, and Beijing has come under strict security measures ahead of the congress, sparking frustration in the city, including a rare and dramatic public protest on Thursday criticizing Xi and his strategy.
• Airline stocks rallied Monday after data showed that on Sunday, more people flew than on any other day since before the pandemic. Data from the Transportation Security Administration showed that 2.495 million travelers went through TSA checkpoints on Sunday, which is just above the previous 2022 high of 2.490 million on July 1 and the most since Feb. 11, 2020, which was exactly one month before the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. In comparison, the day with the fewest travelers since the start of the pandemic was April 12, 2022, with 87,534 people traveling. And in 2019, there were 116 days of more travelers than Sunday, while the average for that year was 2.306 million. The U.S. Global Jets ETF JETS, +2.02% was up 2.2%.
Here’s what the numbers say:
The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 624.7 million on Monday, while the death toll rose above 6.56 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.
The U.S. leads the world with 96.9 million cases and 1,065,118 fatalities.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 226.2 million people living in the U.S., equal to 68.1% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots. Just 110.8 million have had a booster, equal to 49% of the vaccinated population, and 25.6 million of those who are eligible for a second booster have had one, equal to 39% of those who received a first booster.