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Growing COVID strain may be more likely to infect the vaccinated, those who’ve already had virus, NYC health officials say

A growing COVID strain — Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 — may be more likely to infect the vaccinated and those who’ve already had the virus, New York City health officials tweeted Friday.

“Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 now accounts for 73% of all sequenced COVID-19 cases in NYC,” the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said. “XBB.1.5 is the most transmissible form of COVID-19 that we know of to date and may be more likely to infect people who have been vaccinated or already had COVID-19.”

Nevertheless the agency added in a subsequent tweet that “getting vaccinated and getting the updated booster is still the best way to protect yourself from hospitalization and death from COVID-19, including from these new variants” and encouraged residents to “get your updated booster today.”

What else do we know about XBB.1.5?

Reuters — citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — reported Friday that XBB.1.5 is estimated to account for 43% of U.S. COVID-19 cases for the week ending Jan. 14.

In the first week of January, the subvariant accounted for about 30% of cases, Fox News said, adding that the offshoot of XBB was first detected in October. It’s also known as “Kraken.”

Fox News added that the World Health Organization warned earlier this week that the strain may lead to an increased number of cases based on genetic characteristics and early growth-rate estimates.

“Our concern is how transmissible it is,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19, said, according to Fox News.

Van Kerkhove added that “he more this virus circulates, the more chances it will have to change,” the cable network reported.

However, she also said there’s no data yet that proves XBB.1.5 causes more severe disease, Fox News reported, and that the WHO is working on a new risk assessment for the variant that’s expected to be released soon.

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen also said the strain “does not appear to cause more severe disease. Like other Omicron descendants, it probably causes milder illness compared with the Delta variants that predated Omicron.”

Anything else?

Incidentally, Wen supported hardline measures such as universal masking requirements and in September 2021 proposed barring the unvaccinated from interstate travel, vaccinations for every American over the age of 12, proof of vaccination for all U.S. residents, and that businesses shouldn’t serve the unvaccinated.

Wen appeared to change her tune a bit in December 2021 when she called cloth face masks “little more than facial decorations” and added that the U.S. should require people to wear surgical masks in crowded indoor areas. Last month Wen said natural immunity against COVID is the optimal protection.

In a Friday op-ed for the Washington Post — titled “We are overcounting covid deaths and hospitalizations. That’s a problem.” — Wen wondered if Americans are “dying from covid or with covid?”

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