COVID Eris vs new vaccines: Here’s everything you should know

There's been a sudden increase in COVID-19 cases after the summer holidays because of a new variant EG.5. All eyes are now on the upcoming vaccines that target a relative of the variant.
Rupendra Brahambhatt
COVID-19 mutation
COVID-19 mutation


Coronavirus is the last thing most of us would like to talk about after the summer vacations, but COVID-19-related hospital admissions are again on the rise in the US due to the emergence of a new variant called EG.5 (or Eris). 

In the last week of July, hospitals in the country witnessed a 12 percent jump in the number of COVID-19 patients. According to CDC, this number has increased by another 14.3 percent in the second week of August, establishing Eris as the dominant coronavirus variant in the US.

However, WHO has classified Eris as a variant of interest, and in their risk evaluation report, the organization stated, “At present, there is no evidence of an increase in disease severity directly associated with EG.5.” 

“Collectively, available evidence does not suggest that EG.5 has additional public health risks relative to the other currently circulating SARS-CoV-2 descendent lineages,” WHO added.

The good news is new COVID-19 vaccines, made to deal with the previously dominant XBB 1.5 variant, are on their way. They are most likely to be available by September end. Since both XBB 1.5 and Eris are Omicron subvariants and share similarities in their spike amino acid profiles, the new vaccines might also prove to be effective against EG.5. 

“There's a single mutation that separates EG.5 from the most recent variants. Whether or not a booster created for XBB would be equally effective for EG.5 is still unclear, but we know, again, that they're genetically very similar,” Aniruddha Hazra, director of the Infectious Diseases Fellowship Program at UChicago Medicine, told NPR.

What to know about the Eris variant?

EG.5 was first detected in China in February this year, and within six months, it has spread to 51 countries. A report from Radio France Internationale suggests that more than 30 percent of new cases in France are now of the EG.5 variant. 

In the UK, the new variant contributes to a 20 percent increase in COVID-19 cases every week. The first case of Eris in the US was reported in April, and it currently accounts for nearly 17 percent of total COVID-19 cases in the country. 

A Sars Cov-2 variant of interest, such as Eris, comes with specific genetic markers that increase the virus’ ability to transmit the infection faster, evade existing diagnosis and treatment methods, and fight antibodies produced by previous vaccines. 

The genetic profile of Eris is about 88 percent similar to XBB 1.9.2, the Omicron variant from which it descended. However, it comprises one extra mutation (Q52H) in its spike protein that helps it dodge our immune system and has turned it into a highly transmissible variant across the globe.  

However, the variant does not seem harmful to public health for now. In fact, “Most people admitted with COVID are there for something else, say hip surgery or some sort of injury, and end up testing positive for COVID. Very few are critically ill with COVID,” Bruce Farber, a doctor at Northwell Health, told NPR.

Only vaccines promise maximum safety

According to a study, if you look at the three major coronavirus strains (i.e., Alpha, Delta, and Omicron) at their peak, you will find Omicron has the maximum death rate (nine percent). Eris, which also happens to be a subvariant of Omicron, doesn’t seem dangerous for now, but even health experts are not sure about the full potential of its one extra mutation.

Previous vaccines have proven effective against Omicron variants, and enough evidence strongly suggests that people who receive their boosters face less severe symptoms than those who don’t. 

Moreover, vaccines are especially beneficial for individuals with existing medical conditions who are always at risk of severe illnesses due to new variants. However, the latest trend shows that people are now showing less interest in getting vaccinated.

Last year, fewer than 50 million US individuals chose to get booster shots. Health professionals are already worried about whether more people will get vaccinated this year, as they now seem even less concerned about COVID-19 compared to 2022. 

However, the new variant and the rate at which it infects people proves that COVID is not over, and we still need to be cautious. Scientists are not sure how much the new vaccines will be effective against Eris, but they will strengthen our immunity against XBB 1.5, which shares several genetic factors with EG.5.

"When you look at what you can do to reduce your duration of illness, even if you do get sick, being boosted is going to be the best way to do that," said Dr. David Boulware, an expert on infectious diseases and a physician a the University of Minnesota Medical School. 

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