The Public Health Agency of Canada recently reported the presence of the Omicron subvariant XBB.1.5 in Canada. This variant is currently the dominant variant in the United States and is considered the most transmissible detected so far by the World Health Organization. While there is no evidence of the variant causing more severe illnesses, it is classified as highly transmissible and possibly more immune-evasive.
Dr. Lisa Barrett, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and in the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie University, has stated that the vaccines available will still work against this new form of the virus. Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the COVID-19 technical lead for the WHO, has noted that genomic sequencing initiatives have declined worldwide, making it difficult to track variants.
Dr. Dale Kalina from Joseph Brant Hospital and Foundation in Burlington, Ont., has encouraged Canadians to get their bivalent booster shot as soon as possible. However, currently only about 20% of Canadians age five and over have received a booster shot of a COVID-19 vaccine since Aug. 1.
In light of these developments, it is important to continue to be aware of COVID-19 and its variants, and to follow proper health protocols such as wearing masks in crowded indoor areas, washing hands frequently, staying home if sick, and getting vaccinated. Vaccine equity is also essential in preventing the emergence of more variants and prolonging the pandemic.