​The Holidays and COVID-19

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on December 21, 2022 # COVID-19

coronavirus word blockThe holiday season is here. Traveling to see family and friends increases the chances of catching COVID-19. However, you can take steps to prevent or decrease the effects of COVID-19.

Which COVID-19 Variant is Dominant Now?

Omicron

The B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5 variants (Omicron) surpassed the Delta variant to become the dominant form of SARS-CoV-2 in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) continue to monitor this variant and its mutations because Omicron remains a variant of concern. The CDC defines variants of concern as mutations that spread rapidly.

The CDC has declared Omicron’s BQ (BQ.1 and BQ.1.1) subvariants the dominant mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. According to the CDC, the BQ subvariants have surpassed Omicron’s BA. 5 subvariants, accounting for 57% of new COVID-19 cases. Those with compromised immune systems are at a heightened risk of infection.

Why is Omicron’s BQ Subvariant Concerning?

Researchers and scientists are striving to find comprehensive COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots. But, with the unceasing development of variants and subvariants, it isn’t easy. The BQ subvariant poses a risk to those with a compromised immune system because it can dodge your immune system. Those familiar with the BQ subvariant also believe it may resist Evusheld and bebtelovimab. These antibody medications are often prescribed to people with a compromised immune system. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized bebtelovimab for emergency use in the U.S. at this time. The FDA does not believe bebtelovimab will effectively neutralize the BQ.1 or BG.1.1 subvariants.

Omicron subvariants that may be resistant to SARS-CoV-2 Omicron subvariants monoclonal antibodies include:

  • BA.4.6, BA.2.75.2, BA.5.2.6, BF.7, BQ.1, and BQ.1.1 which are potentially resistant to Evusheld
  • BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 which are potentially resistant to bebtelovimab

President Biden advised those with compromised immune systems to speak with a doctor about precautions. Many medical professionals are encouraging masks and getting COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots.

What Do I Need to Know About XBB?

If you are keeping up with the latest news about COVID-19, its variants, and subvariants, you may have heard about XBB. XXB is a subvariant which derives from the BA.2 (Omicron) variant. Researchers discovered XBB as new cases increased in Asia. The CDC and WHO believe the XBB variant could be the most immune-evasive subvariant.

The CDC expects XBB to rise to slightly over 5 percent. Early estimates provided by the CDC site suggest XBB could double every 12 days. If XBB follows the CDC’s projection, it will increase faster than BQ.1 and BQ.1.1.

Some in the media have called it the “nightmare variant.” Some public health and medical professionals say the name makes XBB sound threatening, but they hope it won’t create the surge in COVID-19 cases like its other variant siblings.

Do I Need a Booster Shot?

Whether you need a booster shot or not is a conversation you should have with your doctor. Because your doctor is aware of your health and medical needs, you can have an open, in-depth discussion about what suits you. Before you go to your appointment, write down your questions.

If you are considering getting a booster shot or want to have another, you can find out more by visiting reputable, science-based websites. The CDC has published the recommended guidelines for getting vaccines and booster shots. They, along with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also keep their website updated with vaccines and boosters that received emergency use authorization or are approved. To learn more about the guidelines for vaccinations or booster shots, visit the CDC’s page.

Also, it’s important to remember that a COVID-19 vaccine or booster shot may prevent you from being infected. But they aren’t a cure-all. Because the variants of COVID-19 continue to mutate and form subvariants, it is possible to become infected with a variant or subvariant of COVID-19. The vaccine or booster shot’s protection can decrease the symptoms or side effects if you are infected.

Can Booster Shots Help Me?

Vaccine makers Moderna and Pfizer released statements saying their boosters activate an immune response to the BQ.1.1 subvariant. Both companies report that their bivalent booster shots provide more protection against Omicron’s subvariants than their original boosters. The findings showed that the bivalent booster shot set off antibody responses to the BA.4 and BA.5 variants. Moderna also reported that early findings from clinical trials show their bivalent booster may neutralize BQ.1.1.

What Can I Do to Stay Healthy?

Staying healthy during the holiday season and winter is challenging. Because many events occur indoors, your risk of catching COVID-19 or another illness does increase. A few ideas to protect yourself are

  • Follow the CDC, FDA, and your doctor’s recommendations
  • Wear a mask
  • Stay up to date on your area’s COVID-19 rates of infection – your local public health agency and the CDC’s tracking page are good places to find this information.
  • Find out if you qualify for a COVID-19 booster

Taking steps to prevent or decrease infection from Omicron or its subvariants may help you maintain your health.

Is There Anything Else I Can Do?

Since the holiday season and winter are high-risk times for infections, you may need to check if you have COVID-19 or a different illness. Many insurance companies cover the cost of take-home COVID-19 tests. You can call your insurance company to see if they cover the kits and how many you can have each month. Another way to find out is to ask your pharmacist. Their staff can check to see what your insurance company will cover.

The holiday season is filled with friends, family, and social gatherings. You may worry about your health if you have a compromised immune system. Engaging in conversations with your doctor about your risk of infection is vital to your well-being.

Christina Sisti, DPS, MPH, MS is a bioethicist and health care policy advocate. She works to create awareness and improve health care policy for those with long-term health issues.

This publication was supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $160,000 with 100% funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, ACL/HHS or the U.S. government.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.