A new hybrid COVID-19 variant emerges. Should we worry?

It's a fusion of two omicron strains.
Loukia Papadopoulos
an illustration of the coronavirus spike protein. Naeblys/iStock

Just when it was looking like we may have overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, a new hybrid virus has emerged again.

According to a report published in Bloomberg on Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) has first detected the hybrid of two omicron strains (BA.1 and BA.2) in the U.K. The new variant is dubbed XE and could potentially be the most transmissible variant yet, as it is stipulated that it can spread 10 percent more easily than BA.2.

In addition, in China, authorities have reported two entirely new omicron subvariants that don’t match any existing sequences. What does this mean for the world?

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A possible threat to the rest of the world

“If the Chinese authorities’ efforts to constrain transmission are ineffective against a highly, highly transmissible virus, like an omicron variant, this could become a threat for the rest of the world,” told Bloomberg Rajeev Venkayya, the chief executive officer of drugmaker Aerium Therapeutics Inc. and a former White House biodefense adviser. 

"We know that uncontrolled transmission of the virus can lead to more viral evolution and an evolution around vaccines and therapeutics,” potentially making them less effective, he added.

Luckily, the number of infections emerging from these new variants is insignificant especially compared to the number of outbreaks still occurring around the world. In addition, during the entire pandemic, many variations have emerged and then proceeded to go nowhere, which could also be the case with XE. 

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Responding to vaccines?

Last month, it was reported that the latest variant at the time (the BA.2) was still responsive to vaccines. White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci warned of a rising highly contagious COVID omicron variant called BA.2 but reassured the public that currently available vaccines and boosters could protect against it.

“It does have increased transmission capability,” Fauci said at the time. “However, when you look at the cases, they do not appear to be any more severe and they do not appear to evade immune responses either from vaccines or prior infections," he added.

It's still too early to tell how XE and other hybrid viruses will respond to vaccines.