For months, the omicron subline BA.5 has been responsible for most infections in Germany. However, other subtypes are constantly developing, which can fuel a new wave of infections. The latest candidate for this: BQ.1.1. The variant is also called "Cerberus" - a name from Greek mythology. That's why she got the nickname "Hellhound". What we already know about the Corona variant.
Bioinformatician Cornelius Römer has been observing Cerberus since September. He works at the Biozentrum in Basel. BQ.1.1 is a subline of BA.5 and has three other spike protein mutations, he says on Twitter. Exactly the place where the virus hijacks the body cells. Due to mutations in the spike protein, our immune system can no longer recognize the virus as well. The result: the mutated virus can bypass our immune system better than previous variants.
BQ.1.1 is spreading mainly in Europe and North America. The latest weekly report from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shows that BA.5 is still responsible for 96 percent of corona infections. The weekly report on BQ.1.1 says: "Although still rare, but increasingly detected in Germany". However, the data refer to calendar week 39, i.e. from September 25th to October 1st.
In an interview with "Spiegel", bioinformatician Cornelius Römer explained that a new wave is already building up - driven by BQ.1.1. According to Cornelius Römer, the data from the RKI is about three weeks behind the infection process. "Meanwhile, BQ.1.1 should already be found in ten percent of the samples. The proportion doubles about every week," Cornelius Römer told the "Spiegel". The US immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to "CBS News" of a rapid doubling time.
How well vaccination and/or a previous infection protect against infection with the new variant is still unclear. But the vaccination or an infection that has gone through should continue to protect against a severe course, according to the virologist Martin Stürmer to the “ZDF”. However: A study in the laboratory, which has not yet been reviewed by a specialist audience, indicates that BQ.1.1 could also bypass the immunity of people who are fully vaccinated and who have also been infected with a corona variant.
dr Anthony Fauci told CBS News: "The bivalent BA.5 vaccine not only worked well against the dominant BA.5 variant, but also protected against new omicron sublines of BA.5. The biggest concern right now is that new omicron variants could circumvent the action of monoclonal antibodies." Monoclonal antibodies are used in immunocompromised people to protect against a Covid-19 infection, since in some cases no or hardly any antibodies are formed in them as a result of the corona vaccination. The reason for this are the drugs that shut down the immune system. This is done after organ transplants, for example, so that the donor organ is not rejected.
Anthony Fauci therefore appeals to immunocompromised people in particular to be vaccinated with the adapted BA.5 vaccine to protect themselves from serious infections. He also thinks it makes sense for people who do not respond as well to the corona vaccination as people with a healthy immune system.
Sources: Twitter Cornelius Römer, CBS News 1, CBS News 2, Spiegel, ZDF, RKI, New York Mag, study in preprint