SARS-CoV-2 Omicron's newest subvariant BQ.1.1 shows extraordinary immune evasion potential against vaccine sera

In a recent study posted to the bioRxiv* preprint server, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Los Alamos National Laboratory pursued immunological evidence of why BQ.1.1 prevalence swiftly increased in areas where Omicron BA.5 was dominant in the United States (US).

Study: Substantial Neutralization Escape by the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Variant BQ.1.1. Image Credit: Naeblys/ShutterstockStudy: Substantial Neutralization Escape by the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Variant BQ.1.1. Image Credit: Naeblys/Shutterstock

Background

Omicron BQ.1.1 cases increased rapidly in the US, and Omicron BA.5 cases declined to less than half of what they were not long ago, when Omicron BA.5 was the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant. Therefore, it is crucial to determine how BQ.1.1 is able to evade neutralizing antibodies (nAbs) induced by Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) vaccination and SARS-CoV-2 infection.

About the study

In the present study, researchers assessed nAb titers in 16 individuals who were vaccinated and boosted with the monovalent mRNA BNT162b2 vaccine in 2021. Next, they evaluated nAb titers in 15 individuals who received the monovalent mRNA boosters in 2022. Additionally, they evaluated 18 bivalent mRNA booster recipients, most of whom received three vaccine doses, although some had also received two or four COVID-19 vaccine doses.

Study findings

Following the monovalent BNT162b2 boost, median nAb titers to WA1/2020, BA.5, BF.7, BA.2.75.2, and BQ.1.1 were 45, 695, 887, 595, 387, and 261, respectively. The authors noted that the median nAb titers against BQ.1.1 were much diminished than the median nAb titers against WA1/2020 and BA.5 by factors of 175 and 3, respectively.

Compared to the uninfected 2021 cohort, most were likely infected in these cohorts, although the documented rates for SARS-CoV-2 Omicron infections were as low as 33%. Also, WA1/2020 and Omicron nAb titers were higher in the two 2022 cohorts even before boosting. After boosting, their median NAb titers to WA1/2020, BA.5, BF.7, BA.2.75.2, and BQ.1.1 were 40, 515, 3693, 2399, 883, and 508, respectively.

Conclusions

The study results showed that compared to BA.5, both BA.2.75.2 and BQ.1.1 escaped nAbs-elicited by prior infection and vaccination more effectively. However, the effect was most pronounced for BQ.1.1, whose nAb titers were lower than BA.5 by a factor of seven across study cohorts.

These findings present an immunological explanation for the prompt surge in BQ.1.1 prevalence in regions where BA.5 was dominant in the US, which has implications for both vaccine and natural immunity. Also, it puts into perspective how the presence of the R346T mutation in multiple new Omicron subvariants is likely a consequence of convergent evolution.

*Important notice

bioRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

Journal reference:
Neha Mathur

Written by

Neha Mathur

Neha is a digital marketing professional based in Gurugram, India. She has a Master’s degree from the University of Rajasthan with a specialization in Biotechnology in 2008. She has experience in pre-clinical research as part of her research project in The Department of Toxicology at the prestigious Central Drug Research Institute (CDRI), Lucknow, India. She also holds a certification in C++ programming.

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Comments

  1. leslie landberg leslie landberg United States says:

    Immunized people are driving escape.  Natural herd immunity is the only robust and lasting approach.  If we stopped trying to partially immunize, we wouldn't see resistant strains emerging.  Lastly, stop analyzing antibodies as if they were the sole defining markers of immunological resistance.  That isn't good science.

    • I Broom I Broom Canada says:

      I'm not clear how one can make these conclusions from the study above??
      It appears that infection based antibody production is no better than vaccine based antibodies. The real difference of course, is that infection based immunity still has a significant associated morbidity and mortality.

      Herd immunity would seem to be unattainable, given the short lived antibody responses to infection, the constant mutations, which are arguably unrelated to immunizations, and the unwillingness of certain demographics to follow simple public health measures.

      Rather than herd immunity, we need to think of mitigation. Better vaccines makes more sense than widespread infection. We've tried both and infection didn't work out well. There's NO reason to believe mutation will stop, irrespective of vaccines. And no reason to believe that virulence will go down v up, in the future.

  2. Lisa Smith Lisa Smith United States says:

    Please write this in layman's terms as most of us don't understand a damn thing that is written in these studies.

  3. John Bortolin John Bortolin Canada says:

    There are still millions of people still alive .and millions of dollars yet to be made.

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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