Journal Science on COVID Waves This Winter

COVID strains that look poised to drive the latest comeback are all subvariants of Omicron, which swept the globe over the past year.

BA.2.75.2, seems to be spreading quickly in India, Singapore, and parts of Europe. Other new immune-evading strains have evolved from BA.5, including BQ.1.1, which has been spotted in multiple countries around the globe.

The new strains all have changes at half a dozen key points in the viral genome that influence how well neutralizing antibodies from vaccination or previous infection bind to the virus, says evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center.

To quickly gauge how well any new subvariant may evade immunity, researchers make copies of the viruses’ spike proteins and expose them to monoclonal antibodies or sera from people to measure how well the antibodies can block the variants from infecting cells. Using such tests, researchers in China and Sweden have found that spike protein from BA.2.75.2 can effectively evade nearly all the monoclonal antibodies used for treating COVID-19, suggesting these treatments may become useless.

There is near certainty that there will be a lot of infections this winter. The uncertainty is how severe or mild the resulting illness will be.

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