Two new variants of COVID-19 have emerged and the Ohio Department of Health is urging people to get booster shots to prepare for their arrival.
“As we head into the colder months, we could see them driving another wave,” said Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff, director of the health department, in a Thursday news conference.
One variant, XBB, was first detected in Asia recently. Another variant, BQ, is already in the U.S. BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, the newest strains, have gained the attention of top health experts due to their rate of increase since first identified in early September.
Neither variant is present in Ohio yet, according to the latest state data.
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Both variants seem to be the most effective so far in terms of evading vaccine-induced and natural immunity. Some therapeutic treatments could be rendered ineffective, said Steven Gordon, chairman of the Cleveland Clinic Department of Infectious Diseases.
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But health experts say the new bivalent booster should provide some protection against the newest strains. The boosters combine the original COVID-19 vaccine with a reformulation that targets the BA.4 and BA.5 versions of the omicron variant.
“If you are not vaccinated or boosted, now is the time. You can acquire significant protection before these variants” take hold, said Vanderhoff.
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While the new variants may be able to make more people sick despite immunity from vaccination or prior infection, there is “no indication” it’s likely to cause more severe disease right now, he added.
‘We’re going to have to watch, because they’re new variants’
Currently in Ohio, COVID-19 has been on the decline, said Vanderhoff. There’s been a 30% drop in circulation in the past two weeks, though numbers are likely higher due to many testing at home for the virus. Hospitalizations have declined about 25% in the past two months. Last week, there were about 8,500 new COVID-19 cases and 824 hospitalizations.
In addition to vaccination, the state health department advises Ohioans to have a testing plan in place in case of infection and to stay away from others if symptoms occur.
Ultimately, the situation is ever-changing.
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“We’re going to have to watch, because they’re new variants,” said Vanderhoff. “But broadly, in the medical community, we maintain a lot of confidence in the ability of vaccines to offer us protection.”
USA Today contributed.
Titus Wu is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.