COVID19: New subvariant expected in Cyprus

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The newest Omicron sub-variant BQ1 of coronavirus is expected to surface in Cyprus, but it’s not more aggressive than previous strains, said virologist Petros Karayiannis.

He predicted a new COVID wave for the coming winter but said this would probably be at the level of the outbreak in the summer and urged vulnerable groups to get vaccinated.

Take-up of the updated booster vaccines is slower than expected.

The government advisor argued that the new strains of the coronavirus do not appear to be more virulent than the previous ones.

“We do not expect the new strains to put pressure on the health systems or the need to take additional restrictive measures other than using masks indoors,” said Karayiannis.

He urged those over 60 with underlying conditions to be vaccinated.

“They are making a mistake of not protecting themselves because we do not know who will get sick and how seriously they will get.

“If they want to protect their health, they should get vaccinated,” he told CNA.

Two new omicron subvariants, BQ1 and BQ1.1, are quickly gaining traction in the US, collectively accounting for 27% of infections.

Both are descendants of BA.5, the omicron variant dominated worldwide for some months.

Although they appear to be most common in the US at this stage, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 have also been identified in the UK and several European countries, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) having classified BQ.1 as a variant of interest.

Based on modelling estimates, the ECDC expects that by mid-November to the beginning of December, more than 50% of COVID infections will be due to BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

By the beginning of 2023, they could account for more than 80% of cases.

The continued emergence of new COVID variants indicates that the virus is still with us and rapidly evolving.

Vaccines

The EU medicines agency has recommended authorising an adapted Spikevax COVID-19 vaccine targeting the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 in addition to the original strain of SARS-CoV-2.

The adapted vaccine, Spikevax bivalent Original/Omicron BA.4-5, is recommended for adults and children from 12 who have already had a primary vaccination course against COVID-19.

This is the second adapted Spikevax vaccine that EMA has recommended for approval.

An adapted Spikevax vaccine targeting Omicron BA.1 and the original strain was authorised in September.

Adapted vaccines have been updated to match the circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2 better.

They are expected to broaden protection against different variants and help maintain optimum levels of protection against COVID-19 as the virus evolves.