Lucian K. Truscott IV
BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. Those are the Omicron subvariants you are going to be hearing a lot about in coming weeks. Descendants of the Omicron variant BA.5, the new subvariants were responsible for 11.4 percent of COVID cases by mid-October, according to the Centers for Disease control (CDC).
That is nearly double the percentage they were responsible for just a week ago. BA.5 remains the dominant variant of COVID, accounting for about 68 percent of new cases, according to CDC estimates.That's nearly double the percentage they were responsible for a week before. For now, BA.5 remains the dominant COVID variant, accounting for about 68 percent of new cases, according to CDC estimates.
See that word? Estimates? The CDC is using it to describe the current COVID landscape because so many people are coming down with the disease and either self-testing and not reporting the results to local health officials, or not testing at all. That’s why the CDC is now forced to estimate what the real COVID statistics are.
Since I last wrote about this disease, I have received multiple accounts from readers about people they know who have come down with COVID, self-tested, and not reported that they have the disease. It’s part of the tendency Americans have not to want “to get the government involved,” but it’s also a result of how the disease has begun to be taken for granted.
Lucian Truscott and artist Tracy Harris, plus dog Ruby, memorializing their "Covid honeymoon" shortly after their 2021 wedding.
Everyone knows someone who has had COVID or has had it himself or herself. My wife Tracy and I came down with in August of 2021, after both of us had had the first version of the vaccine, both shots, but before the first booster became available in the fall. We got the first booster last October, we got the second booster in March, and just a few weeks ago, we got the third booster, the one that’s being talked about in the news right now.
The good news is that the new booster is likely to provide at least some protection against the new subvariants, according to Anthony Fauci, who was interviewed by CBS last Friday. The new booster is called “bivalent” because half of the antigens in the booster work against the main version of COVID, and half are there to contend with the Omicron subvariants.
As Dr. Tina Tan, a pediatric infectious diseases physician at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, told Fortune magazine last week, “Scientifically, it makes sense that if you have a booster that is aimed toward the Omicron subvariants…the better protection you’re going to have against Omicron subvariants,” including BQ.1 and BQ.1.1. According to Dr. Tan, the more antibodies someone has in their blood, the more protection they are likely to have against new strains of the virus.
The other good news is that the main treatment for COVID once you get the disease, Paxlovid, appears to still work against the new subvariants. The bad news, according to an Oct. 17 Politico piece, is that “Early studies suggest Evusheld, the main treatment used to protect the immunocompromised from Covid, appears likely to be ineffective against the new variants. And a second monoclonal antibody treatment known as bebtelovimab is also unlikely to work, meaning the variants’ rise could leave cancer and transplant patients forced to rely on the treatments in lieu of vaccines without an immediate option for protecting themselves.”
The other bad news is that there isn’t much federal money left to pay for research to find new treatments for the new subvariants of COVID. According to Politico, “The White House has for months sought roughly $23 billion from Congress to maintain its COVID response operations, warning its dwindling funds would cripple the government’s ability to respond to new threats. But Senate Republicans have balked at the request, questioning the need for funneling billions more dollars toward a pandemic fight that’s no longer as disruptive to daily life for the majority of Americans.”
You knew they would be lurking somewhere in this story, didn’t you – Republicans opposing spending federal dollars to protect the very people who pay their taxes to create federal dollars. The reasoning behind the Republican resistance to any new spending is that a “majority” of citizens aren’t that worried about COVID anymore, so fuck it, let’s run on cutting spending, lowering taxes, all the stuff that’s worked before as the midterm elections get closer.
The problem with this, of course, is that COVID and its subvariants don’t care that an election is coming up.
The problem with this, of course, is that COVID and its subvariants don’t care that an election is coming up and that Republican members of the Senate and the House want to get elected so badly they will risk people’s lives. COVID is out there, it’s in the air you breathe, just floating around looking for some nostrils to land in and do its natural business, which is reproducing and keeping the virus alive.
The abject failure of Republican politicians to realize that a disease like COVID doesn’t respond to what you don’t do, like refusing to spend money on research and new treatments. The disease responds to the active measures you do take to deal with it, like getting the vaccine and getting boosted, yes, for a third time – and a fourth and fifth time when it's necessary. Anthony Fauci, the bête noire of Republicans – who come close to treating him like he developed the disease and spread it around himself to justify his position at the NIH – has been quoted saying that COVID boosters will be necessary in coming years like annual flu shots are.
Which reminds me: get your flu shot, too. Headlines are out there everywhere predicting a terrible year for the flu. NPR: “Flu is expected to flare up in U.S. this winter, raising fears of a 'twindemic'.” NBC: U.S. hospitals brace for an unprecedented winter of viruses.” The Atlantic: “The Strongest Signal That Americans Should Worry About Flu This Winter.”
The verdict is unanimous. The COVID subvariants, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 are out there competing with the latest version of the flu for a shot at putting you on your backside clutching a box of Kleenex and wishing you had listened when a friend reminded you to get your shots.
Well, I’m that friend, and I’m reminding you. Wear a mask when you’re indoors in public places. Get your COVID booster. Get your flu shot. Do. It. Now.
Editor's Note: We've gotten used to Lucian being right about, well, most everything. The New York Times just reported that BA.5 is giving way to BQ.1 and BQ.1.1., both more transmissible and better at dodging immunity. There were about 1,100 people hospitalized in New York City on Oct. 24, up from 750 in mid-September, the Times reported. Flu is on the increase and so is respiratory syncytial virus, which mainly affects children and older people. Some children's hospitals are already at capacity.
"Doctors say the pandemic shifted patterns of immunity, by reducing the circulation of regular viruses with masks, and isolation measures. Now that those precautions have been curtailed, familiar viruses are circulating again at high levels, and both the flu and RSV seasons have arrived sooner than expected."
Lucian K. Truscott IV is a journalist, bestselling novelist, and screenwriter. A former staff writer for The Village Voice, Truscott is a descendant of Thomas Jefferson. The son and grandson of generals, Truscott's coverage of heroin addiction in the military earned him a less than honorable discharge. (We beg to differ.)
During a November 1998 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show he invited descendants of Sally Hemings to the Jefferson family reunion in 2000. The Hemings descendants had not been allowed to join the association, or to be buried in its graveyard. You can read more of his writing on Substack.
Top illustration: Omicron on the left, flu on the right. NIAID/Science Source photo
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Brian's Booster Playlist
Vaccination : Neba Solo
Something In The Air : Thunderclap Newman
The Air That I Breathe : The Hollies
See That My Grave Is Kept Clean : Lou Reed
Politician : Cream
Transmission : Joy Division
O Death : Ralph Stanley
In My Time of Dying : Led Zeppelin