Dr. Eric Topol: 'XBB.1.5 is no slouch' 

The emergence of the highly transmissible omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 should serve as a wake-up call for the U.S. to reinvest in new vaccines, therapeutics and surveillance efforts, Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of Scripps Research Translational Institute in San Diego, wrote in a Jan. 8 op-ed for The Washington Post.

The subvariant quickly gained dominance in the Northeast and is on track to do so nationwide over the coming weeks. The strain accounted for 27.6 percent of COVID-19 cases as of Jan. 7, up from 18.3 percent a week prior, according to the CDC's latest variant proportion estimates

"What's more, it is picking up steam in many European and Asian countries," Dr. Topol wrote. "This tells us that XBB.1.5 is no slouch. It is outcompeting a soup of new omicron variants that have arisen in recent months."

XBB.1.5 has two mutations that gives it a high level of immune escape and more infectivity advantage over its parent strain, XBB. The nation's high level of immunity from vaccines and past infections should "blunt the effect of XBB.1.5," Dr. Topol said, though COVID-19 hospitalizations are still rising and already are at their highest level in nearly 11 months. 

"The virus is talking to us, and it is telling us it has many more ways to evolve. It is revealing that it not only can fake out or elude our immune response, but can also get better at penetrating our cells," Dr. Topol wrote.

The strain's emergence comes as the world has let down its guard against COVID-19, he said. Booster rates are lagging, masking has become less common, there is less urgency to develop next-generation vaccines, and global genomic surveillance efforts have dipped. 

"We've moved from complacency to frank capitulation at just the wrong time," Dr. Topol said. 

Read the full op-ed here.


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