Everything You Want to Know About Gryphon (XBB): The New COVID Variant

What’s the Deal with Omicron’s New Variants?

So what’s the deal with Gryphon (XBB) the new COVID variant? What are these new variants? Why do we need vaccines, are they even working? There’s a race going on for global supremacy between Omicron’s sub-variants. Only the most contagious and evasive mutation will win (Vogel, 2022). If you’re an avid Game of Thrones reader, perhaps the use of the phrase “Dance of the Variants” might be acceptable here to describe the current global state of competition for the “Viral Throne”.

In the ominous words of Sun et al., (2022), something is coming, quite a few somethings.

Why Is XBB The Star?

This is our way of asking why XBB is receiving so much media attention out of all the new COVID-19 variants?

XBB is receiving a lot of media attention right now, with some news outlets even calling it the ‘Nightmare’ Variant. This attention is partly because of an interview with Boston doctors that seems quite click-baity. But also due to an interview with the WHO COVID technical lead, Maria Van Kerkhove, in which she shared her team’s fears that XBB might become increasingly resistant against our vaccines.

XBB is an interesting case. It’s a recombinant of the BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75. This means that two different COVID-19 variants (BA.2.10.1 and BA.2.75) infected an individual and swapped their genes, making a new hybrid variant = XBB.

Where Did XBB Come From?

Since August, the XBB strain, also known as Gryphon, has been found in several nations. These include Australia, Bangladesh, Denmark, India, Japan, and the United States. Of course, researchers are confirming further locations, so there is a possibility of additional places.

Can Vaccines Fight Back?

Omicron variations, in general, are terrible for vaccines. But BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1 and XBB are the most immune evasive strains ever tested by Focosiso et al., (2022).

Is XBB More Severe?

No, according to a statement released by the Singapore Ministry of Health (where XBB is widely circulating) the majority of patients are reporting mild symptoms such as sore throat or slight fever, especially if they have been vaccinated.

But it should be noted that hospitals in Singapore are continuing to see a rise in hospitalized patients. With the Singapore Ministry of Health encouraging patients to stay away unless absolutely necessary.

Should We Worry About XBB? = Early Data Says No

The severity of XBB in comparison to other Omicron sub-variants is not more significant. But scientists at the WHO are cautious about the viruses ‘growth potential’ = how quickly it can infect people.

What About The Other Variants?

The other sub-variants, like BQ1 and BQ1.1, have been popping up in Nigeria, the UK, Japan, Canada, France, Belgium, New Zealand, Denmark, the U.S., Italy and even in South Africa, to name just a few places. A study has just come out of the USA which analysed new COVID-19 variants with the aim to accurately and reliably predict the next dominant variant. In this study, Chen et al., (2022) found that the ‘binding free energy’ or BFE of a variant is a good predictor of how infectious the variant will be.

This basically boils down to scientists have a way of measuring and comparing variants to predict which one will become dominant. This is important because as people stop mass testing between borders and COVID gets pushed to the back of peoples minds, scientists have less and less data to work with. Meaning, it’s getting increasingly difficult to understand accurately which COVID variants are circulating and impacting people (WHO, 2022).

This has left experts predicting that BA.2.10.4, BA.2.75, BA.2.75+R346T, and BQ.1.1 have a high chance of becoming the new dominant COVID-19 strains (Chen et al., 2022).

We are mostly unaware of just how much bacteria and viruses we come into contact with every day. While our immune system is exceptionally capable of protecting us most of the time, it is not invincible. That is why vaccination, especially childhood vaccinations, are extremely important.

After Shocks: Is Long COVID The Next Pandemic?

Yes! Long COVID is real and is not a hoax. It is possible for those who have recovered from COVID-19 with minor symptoms to have long-term complications. Keep an eye out for symptoms and consult your healthcare provider for further advice.


The Silver Lining

The new COVID-19 variants show no evidence of increased severity. This means that even through COVID is getting more infectious with each new dominant omicron sub-variant, hospitalizations and mortality from COVID is at its lowest point since the pandemic began (CDC, 2022).

This suggests that, especially in South Africa with our 97% COVID antibody rate, many people have developed some protection from their past infections and vaccinations.

Awareness about variants and health doesn’t end here. Do you know that October (and the rest of 2022) are full of important health awareness dates? Some of these include diabetes awareness, prematurity awareness, malaria and stroke awareness, as well as many other significant dates.

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