New COVID variant becomes predominant strain in Mass.

BQ.1.1 has spread rapidly across the country in recent weeks.

A Moderna COVID-19 booster vaccine. Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Ahead of the holidays, a new COVID-19 strain has taken over in Massachusetts. 

The subvariant, known as BQ.1.1, is related to the omicron family and now accounts for 39 percent of COVID-19 cases in the state, making it the predominant variant in Massachusetts, The Boston Globe reported.

Nationally, BQ.1.1 and its sibling BQ.1 accounted for just under 50 percent of COVID cases last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  BA.5, the strain that dominated the country throughout the summer, now appears to be giving way to BQ.1.1 and BQ.1. The latest CDC data estimates that about 24 percent of cases nationwide are caused by BA.5. 


The booster shots distributed this fall were designed to combat BA.5. Both Pfizer and Moderna said recently that their booster shots do work to trigger immune responses against BQ.1.1 and BQ.1, CNBC reported. 

BQ.1.1 could pose a heightened risk to immunocompromised people and those that develop severe infections, according to the Globe. The two predominant antibody medicines will likely not work as well against the new variants.

“If you are unfortunate enough to wind up in the hospital severely ill, the arsenal that doctors will have to treat you will be more limited,” Dr. William Hanage, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told the Globe.

Although these variants could be more dangerous to some, a wider spike in infections does not appear to be imminent in Massachusetts. Recent data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows the number of cases in the state remained relatively steady over the past month. Wastewater analysis from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, a powerful tool used to get an early glimpse at future COVID trends, does not show significantly rising levels of the virus as of last Thursday. 

“The huge majority of vaccinated people have no particular reason to be anxious about BQ.1.1,” Hanage told the Globe.


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