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New COVID-19 subvariants replace BA.5 as most dominant in U.S.

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks at a hearing on COVID-19 response and variants on Jan. 11. The BA.5 COVID-19 variant has lost its U.S. dominance for the first time since July to new subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 Pool photo by Greg Nash/UPI
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks at a hearing on COVID-19 response and variants on Jan. 11. The BA.5 COVID-19 variant has lost its U.S. dominance for the first time since July to new subvariants BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 Pool photo by Greg Nash/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 16 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 BA.5 variant has lost its dominance in the United States, according to the CDC. Two other variants -- BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 -- have replaced it.

The CDC data shows The new BQ.1.1 and BQ.1 together account for roughly 44% of new U.S. COVID-19 infections. The new variants are sublineages of BA.5. It's the first time since July that the BA.5 variant has not been dominant.

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According to research from Dr. Shan-Lu Liu at Ohio State University, data suggests mutations in the BQ subvariants are more effective at entering human cells. He tweeted that the data on the new subvariants "raise new concerns."

While these new variants may be able to more effectively infect human cells, data so far indicates that vaccines and treatment should still work against them overall, according to Johns Hopkins University virologist Andrew Pekosz.

Pekosz said that since virtually all COVID-19 variants in the United States are related to BA.5, the most recent bivalent vaccine should still increase immunity to some extent.

Moderna said Monday that its new COVID-19 booster prototypes provide "superior" protection against BA.4 and BA.5. And it said the new vaccine booster also showed "neutralizing activity" against BQ.1.1.

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Scientists don't expect the new BQ COVID-19 subvariants to cause more severe disease.

These latest COVID-19 subvariants drew attention in October, when the CDC said they had reached 10% of new COVID-19 infections. Scientists first named BQ.1 in September.

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