Dr. Ashish Jha weighs in on the risks of the new COVID XBB.1.5 subvariant


The Omicron sub-variant is now spreading across the country and dominating in New England.

White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha speaks during a daily press briefing at the White House in December 2022. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Top public health experts are sounding the alarm about a relatively new COVID subvariant. This includes Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.

Jha took to Twitter on Wednesday to update the public on XBB.1.5, a sub-variant of Omicron that seems to be spreading rapidly across the country. The rise of XBB.1.5 has been “breathtaking”, he wrote.

The XBB.1.5 subvariant was responsible for 40.5% of new COVID infections in the United States from Dec. 25 to Dec. 31, according to the most recent CDC data. The second most common subvariant, BQ.1.1, was responsible for 26.9% of new infections during this period.

The XBB.1.5 subvariant spread rapidly throughout December. It was only responsible for 1.3% of all new COVID infections from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3, according to CDC data. The following week, it jumped to 3.7%. It rose to 9.9% the following week, and to 21.7% the week before Christmas.

The subvariant is especially common in New England. In the last week of 2022, XBB.1.5 was responsible for 75.3% of cases in the region, down from 55.9% the previous week.

Jha said XBB.1.5 is probably better at avoiding existing immunity than other variants and subvariants, including other Omicron releases. Jha added that the subvariant is also likely more inherently contagious. Whether or not it’s more dangerous for those infected is still undetermined, Jha said.

XBB.1.5 likely poses a higher risk for those who were last infected with COVID before July and those who have not yet received the last bivalent booster. The new vaccine is the best way to protect against the impacts of XBB.1.5.

Current COVID tests should work just as well for detecting XBB.1.5 as other variants, Jha added. Free tests can be acquired at www.covid.gov/tests.

The doctor stressed the importance of wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces, getting tested before large gatherings or interactions with immunocompromised people, and keeping up to date with booster shots.

“Together we can minimize the disruptions of XBB.1.5,” Jha wrote. “Am I concerned about XBB.1.5? Yes. Am I worried that this represents a huge setback? Nope.”


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