It is currently the fastest growing omicron variant in Germany: BQ.1.1. Their share is still small, but the increase is steep. The virologist Friedemann Weber explains to FOCUS online how dangerous the mutation is and what worries him the most.

According to experts, the new Corona variant BQ.1.1 is the one that can trigger the new wave before the end of November. Scientists have already discovered the first genetic traces in Germany.

What is the potential of BQ.1.1? FOCUS online asked Friedemann Weber, Director of the Institute for Virology at the Justus Liebig University in Gießen:

How dangerous do you think BQ.1.1. is?

“BQ.1.1 has five new mutations associated with antibody escape,” explains Weber. This means that the variant can partially escape the immune system. “In addition, it is currently the fastest growing virus variant in Germany. Although their proportion of cases is relatively small and BA.5 remains dominant, this may change soon as the BQ1.1 curve is significantly steeper.”

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Friedemann Weber is a professor of virology and director of the corresponding institute at the Justus Liebig University in Giessen. There he researches, among other things, corona and influenza viruses.

Will the variant give us a strong autumn/winter wave?

The Cambridge researcher Cornelius Römer expects a wave “before the end of November”. “In any case, BQ.1.1 has the tools to spread rapidly,” confirms virologist Weber. “But it can also be that from some corner of the world a completely different variant emerges, which then wins the race.”

New Corona variants are named according to the rules of the Pango nomenclature, which was set up in 2020 to track them. Based on two variants (A and B), their sub-variants are designated with numbers. However, so that these designations do not become too confusing, a letter is used after the third number instead of the fourth, in this case “Q”. The alternative name for BQ.1.1 would otherwise be the following: B.1.1.529.

How concerned are you about this convergent evolution of the omicron sublineages that some experts are describing?

“What distinguishes the current situation from the past is that there is not one variant that achieves air supremacy due to its unique genetic makeup,” explains Weber. “Rather, there is a swarm of different sublines, some of which have acquired the same mutations independently of one another. However, BQ.1.1 is the only variant with five new mutations in the spike protein.”

The virologist adds: “What worries me most is that around ten percent of the 60 age group and more than 20 percent of the general population have not received a single vaccination. The immunity after infection is fluctuating and therefore much less reliable. Another aspect is that with every new variant there is a risk that therapeutic antibodies will lose their effectiveness.”

How well do the vaccines still work against the variant?

“So far, vaccinations have provided very reliable protection against severe courses, even with new variants. It will not be any different with BQ.1.1 etc.,” judges Weber. Because the vaccination protection against deeper penetration into the body is mediated by T cell immunity, against which there are little or no Sars-CoV-2 escape mutations.

Which vaccine should I be boosted with?

For those for whom there is a vaccination recommendation, there is a lot to be said for the adapted vaccine. Virologist Weber explains: “BQ.1.1 descends from BA.5, and many of its relatives are either also in this direct line or at least from the pedigree of their ancestor, the variant BA.2. As such, a BA.5 booster shot could be beneficial.”