Emerging COVID-19 variants reinforce importance of vaccination

December 23, 2022


As Roadrunners wrap up the year and begin the holiday break, COVID-19 remains a concern they should keep in mind. Several new COVID-19 variants have been spreading rapidly across the United States, and they’re proving to be much more infectious than the formerly dominant BA.5 variant. For example, evidence suggests that the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants, which now account for a large portion of confirmed COVID-19 cases, are as much as seven times more immune-evasive than the BA.5 variant.

While it’s hard to put it into perspective just how rapidly these variants are spreading across the country, here’s one way to look at what the numbers tell us: In September, the BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 variants made up just 0.3% of all cases. This number jumped to 55.5% of all cases by early December. In total, new variants accounted for 15.2% of all cases nationwide in early September, and over 76% of all positive COVID-19 cases by early December. The CDC predicts this trend of newer variants rapidly displacing the BA.5 variant to continue.

COVID-19 Variant Proportions
(% of Positive-tested Cases Over Time)

Graph: COVID variants over time

Data source: CDC

The prevalence of new, immune-evasive variants means that even individuals who are vaccinated and boosted may get infected with COVID-19. However, it’s important to note that those that are fully vaccinated and up to date on boosters are much less likely to experience serious cases or require hospitalization as a result of being infected.

Some additional concerns associated with the new variants is that they are likely to render the most recent available monoclonal antibody drug ineffective as well as decreasing the effectiveness of the drug Evushield, which is used to lessen the risk of contracting COVID-19. This will greatly affect immunosuppressed individuals who cannot receive the COVID-19 vaccine and rely on these treatments to help their bodies mount an effective response to the virus.

The best thing we can all do is get vaccinated and boosted if possible. UTSA holds convenient monthly clinics for COVID-19 vaccines and boosters for all members of the community at no cost. If you’re immunocompromised, consider avoiding large gatherings and wearing a mask, especially during periods of high community risk. If you’ve been exposed or diagnosed, please consider the impact to those around you and follow recommended precautions to protect yourself and others.