"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Highly mutated COVID strain cannot circumvent immunity as feared

September 5, 2023 – The recent, highly mutated COVID variant BA.2.86 doesn't have an increased ability to evade protection from COVID vaccines or immunity from previous infection, recent laboratory tests show.

The BA.2.86 variant has attracted the eye of health authorities in recent weeks as a result of its rapid spread around the globe and numerous mutations. Because of the numerous mutations, the variant is more prone to behave in another way than previous versions of the virus, potentially making it more dangerous.

Now experiments by two US scientific teams show that antibodies from COVID vaccinations or previous infections can recognize and fight the BA.2.86 version of the virus. CNN reportedand noted that the protection was “perhaps even better” than an antibody response to other currently circulating strains of the virus.

The recent studies showed that folks who had been infected with an XBB version of the virus inside the last six months had the strongest immune responses to BA.2.86.

“BA.2.86 really doesn't seem to have much of an impact on neutralization after XBB infection. What does that mean? The new COVID vaccine (which will likely be available soon) should also provide good protection against infection against BA.2.86,” said former White House COVID coordinator Ashish Jha, MD, MPH, wrote on X, formerly generally known as Twitter.

The CDC expects the updated COVID vaccine to be available in mid-September. Just just like the annual flu shot, the brand new approach to COVID vaccines is to develop a new edition annually to combat strains which are expected to be widespread. The recent COVID vaccine has been optimized to guard against a strain of XBB called XBB.1.5.

Last week, the CDC BA.2.86 has been present in 4 U.S. states, either in people or in sewage, but remains to be so rare that it just isn't even listed as a separate strain on the CDC's variant tracker. The currently predominant virus strains all remain subvariants of Omicron. Currently, EG.5 accounts for 21.5% of cases, FL.1.5.1 accounts for 14.5% of cases, and several other XBB strains account for 8% to 9% each. FL.1.5.1 is a recombinant of two XBB virus strains and will be more concerning than BA.2.86 since it showed some ability to evade immunity in lab tests, CNN reported.

“If there wasn't so much excitement about BA.2.86, that would actually be the focus of the article,” Dan Barouch, MD, PhD, told the news agency, referring to the FL.1.5.1 strain. Barouch is director of one among the labs that conducted the brand new tests, and he also directs the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Massachusetts.

Since June, the variety of severe COVID cases has risen, resulting in more people being hospitalized for the virus. About 15,000 people were hospitalized within the week ending August 19 – essentially the most recent week for which the CDC has data. Deaths have risen since June, from about 500 per week to greater than 600 in the primary week of August. Still, the numbers are far lower than at the peak of the pandemic, when greater than 20,000 people died per week and greater than 100,000 hospitalizations were reported weekly.

The CDC said in last week's COVID Risk Assessment Update to BA.2.86 that 97% of individuals within the U.S. have antibodies from previous infection, vaccination, or each which are “likely” protective against severe cases of COVID-19.