Omicron Subvariant XBB.1.5 Could Be More Likely to Infect Vaccinated: NYC Health Officials

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The Omicron XBB.1.5 variant of COVID-19 is more likely to infect individuals who have been vaccinated, according to New York City health officials.

“Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 now accounts for 73 percent of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in NYC. XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible form of COVID-19 that we know of to date and may be more likely to infect people who have been vaccinated or already had COVID-19,” the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene wrote on Twitter on Jan. 13.

Despite this, the department urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated and receive the updated COVID-19 booster shot, stating that doing so “is still the best way to protect yourself from hospitalization and death from COVID-19, including from these new variants.”

The XBB.1.5 variant is quickly becoming the dominant subvariant in the United States. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that XBB.1.5 accounted for an estimated 43 percent of COVID-19 cases in the country for the week ending Jan. 14.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said earlier this month that the subvariant is on the rise in the United States and Europe and has now been identified in more than 25 countries.

The subvariant has now overtaken the BQ.1.1 subvariant, which was first identified in September, and which now accounts for an estimated 28.8 percent of cases in the country, according to CDC data.

XBB.1.5 Unlikely to Increase Severity

Although there has been a surge in XBB.1.5 cases, the WHO has stated that the variant does not have any mutations known to increase the severity of the virus in individuals.

In a risk assessment (pdf) published on Jan. 11, the health body said that XBB.1.5, based on its genetic characteristics and early growth rate estimates, may contribute to a surge in cases around the world but it “does not carry any mutation known to be associated with potential change in severity.”

By Katabella Roberts

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