XB what? BQ huh? Do you need to keep up with Omicron’s ever-expanding offspring? https://t.co/OFq4ZwwRRy
— STAT (@statnews) January 12, 2023
It’s like clockwork now. Every few months, we’re warned that the Omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has spawned yet another subvariant, this one even more transmissible than the ones it is fast overtaking.
The new entity is given a name, an unwieldy string of letters and numbers separated by periods. There’s discussion — some of it breathless — on Twitter and in the media about the threat the new subvariant poses. People who are still following Covid-19 news worry. People who are determined to ignore Covid pay no attention…
The cycle has some experts wondering about how useful these discussions are. We aren’t, after all, obsessing about which strain of H3N2 flu has been causing most of the illness that has cycled through the United States in this abnormally early flu season. That’s because new strains of existing flu viruses may make us more vulnerable to infection, but they don’t render us defenseless against influenza. The same is true with SARS-2 subvariants — but that sometimes gets lost in the back and forth.
“This keeps happening every couple of months. I sort of feel like it’s Groundhog Day, except with ‘scariants,’” said Angela Rasmussen, a coronavirus virologist at the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, using a term coined by Eric Topol.
(For the record, Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, disagrees vehemently with the notion that people don’t need to pay much attention to which variant or subvariant is currently circulating, arguing among other things that the public discussion could encourage more people to get the latest booster shots.)…