HONOLULU(KHON2) — Since COVID-19 was first discovered, health officials have recorded dozens of mutations of the virus. And Dr. Edward Desmond, the State Laboratories Division’s Administrator, said the omicron variant called BQ1.1, is immune resistant.
“Some of these new variants are less effectively neutralized by our antibodies,” Desmond explained. “But our cell-mediated immunity will protect us if we have been previously infected, or if we’ve been vaccinated.”
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Dr. Libby Char, the State Health Director, said vaccines are actually the best defense against the new variants, sharply decreasing chances of severe illness and death.
“I don’t want people to think that the vaccines don’t work anymore against these sub-variants,” said Char. “Absolutely, it does provide protection. So please go get vaccinated.”
Char further explained, “Because the more people that get vaccinated, the more our community is protected, the less chance there is for future or further mutations
According to Desmond, the omicron BQ1.1 variant already has five antibody-escaping sub-variants.
And Char said BQ1.1 is already prevalent in Europe and on the mainland. They recently detected it in Hawaii through genome sequencing.
“The next report that comes out next week is going to have more cases of BQ1.1, so it’s expanding here,” Desmond said.
The health department continues to monitor COVID cases but said the counts are likely higher than they’re reporting due to at-home testing.
So they are focusing on trends by combining data from reported cases, hospitalizations, COVID deaths and their wastewater report that detects the virus and its variants from 15 wastewater treatment plants in the state.
With winter approaching, Char and Desmond are expecting to see more infections. But they hope people will do what they can to tamp down the spread.
“We do have tools, like some medications to treat it,” Chair said. “We know that masks work well. And I think we’re just in a very different place than we were a couple of years ago.”
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“We’re not over the pandemic, and there certainly is the possibility of a surge,” Desmond said. “And so people definitely should be getting vaccinated.”