It has been three long years since COVID-19 first hit our shores.
Every year, new variants pop up and infect everyone. The COVID-19 patterns are seriously more than badminton.
Last year alone, we had to deal with the primary Delta and Omicron variants alongside its hybrid variant Deltacron.
If you recall, there was also the Omicron subvariant XBB BA.2.10 that impacted Singapore last October.
You can watch our TikTok explaining the XBB BA.2.10 that hit waves in Singapore last year.
@goodyfeed More facts at our new channel @Goody Facts ♬ original sound – Goody Feed
Me too, Skinny. I don’t like Xiao Boi Boi, either.
Why Bird Paradise Suddenly Became Singapore’s Yishun:
Every news cycle, it seems like there is a new COVID-19 strain or subvariant that is trying to take over the world. It used to be the main characters’ Alpha, Delta and Omicron variants, dominating a good part of our 2020 to 2022 headlines.
Unfortunately, a new subvariant called the XBB1.5 seems to want to step up to the mic.
“XBB1.5” sounds like a game update patch for the original XBB subvariant. There is some truth in that saying.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the XBB1.5 is a recombinant of the past two BA.2 sub-lineages. It is intensely transmitting worldwide and putting high pressure on healthcare systems globally.
Most Transmissible Subvariant Yet
It would be best not to brush off the XBB1.5 subvariant so quickly.
The XBB1.5 subvariant is said to be the most transmissible subvariant yet. To be highly infectious would mean that it can spread among people faster and quicker than previous COVID-19 strains.
The XBB1.5 subvariant can be transmissible because the genes are mutated, so they can stick to human cells more readily.
They can replicate their DNA much more efficiently by avoiding our immune system’s antibodies.
The virus is also described to be the most immunoevasive one so far, avoiding our bodies’ antibodies much easier.
The virus is growing to outsmart us.
Nothing to Worry About… Yet
Thankfully, it is not all doomsday news over here. You don’t have to panic-stock up your toilet paper or groceries just yet.
The XBB1.5 subvariant is nothing to worry about now for many of us.
Currently, there is no supporting study that the XBB1.5 subvariant will cause more severe illness or death.
Furthermore, as XBB1.5 is a tangent from the older BA.2 sublineages, there should still be ample protection from past vaccinations completed, as the earlier vaccine shots we had targeted the BA.2 strains.
Phew. That is a sigh of relief. The days of masking up wherever we go are hopefully not coming back.
How Does the XBB1.5 Subvariant Work?
Professor Ravindra Gupta of the Cambridge Institute of Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, University of Cambridge, spoke to CNA938 about the mechanisms of the XBB1.5 subvariant.
She mentioned that the XBB1.5 subvariant has managed to resolve two problems all viruses face; how to avoid the host body’s immune system and how to replicate and spread itself faster.
The mutations by combining the previous BA.2 sub-lineages allow the new virus to evade our bodies’ antibodies, which can be from past vaccinations or infections and cling onto our cells.
The mutations also contribute to changing the building blocks of the virus itself, enabling it to be more readily able to latch on tighter to human cells and attack us.
The XBB1.5 subvariant is an update from its predecessor XBB subvariant, faster and stronger than ever.
It seems like the XBB1.5 subvariant will not be a xiao bao bei at all. Some even nick XBB1.5 as the “Kraken” variant, named after a mythological sea monster.
XBB1.5’s Impact Worldwide
WHO has alerted that the threat of COVID-19 will persist, as the XBB1.5 subvariant is a variant of concern.
As of January 2023, the XBB1.5 subvariant has been spreading in 29 countries worldwide since its first discovery in October 2022. It is said to be multiplying in some geographies globally.
This news, unfortunately true. The XBB1.5 subvariant is currently rampaging across the United States (US) and Europe amidst the busy holiday season.
According to the US federal health agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the XBB1.5 subvariant is responsible for at least 40% of all active cases in the US. It is also accountable for at least 75% of COVID-19 cases in densely populated states such as New York, Puerto Rico and Massachusetts.
The XBB1.5 subvariant is also starting to make its way across Europe. The subvariant is showing up in many European states, including Germany and France, as well as the United Kingdom. According to Sanger Institute, the XBB1.5 subvariant currently accounts for one in 25 of the total COVID-19 cases in Britain.
There is not enough information to determine whether the XBB1.5 subvariant is spreading within our community yet.
Update Your Vaccinations
You are not alone if you are tired of hearing about COVID-19 news. Me too; we are all suffering from response fatigue about the virus.
After all, it has been three long years of dealing with countless COVID-19 headlines about the inevitable restrictions and new variants coming our way.
So many of us are yearning to travel after the pandemic. It is no shocker that flight ticket prices are soaring after authorities worldwide lifted international borders.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 virus itself goes through regular new updates to try to fight us. This time around, it is the XBB1.5 subvariant.
We should update ourselves with booster vaccinations to tackle them as well. Reinfections are a real issue regarding new subvariants, which could easily bypass our immunity system.
It is crucial to stay aware and do our part to protect the vulnerable in our community. So, do it for your loved ones, at least.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has advised everyone to take the new bivalent vaccines as soon as possible, as the effectiveness of past vaccinations we took in the past two years will wane.
The bivalent vaccines will grant higher immunity against the newer Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants to prevent infections (or reinfections).
Vaccination Status in Singapore
Vaccination numbers in Singapore have slowly but surely plateaued over the months. Last October, 10% of our COVID-19 vaccine doses expired due to the lowered take-up rates. Alarmingly, only about half of our population (58%) is up to date with their vaccinations.
Everybody above 12 is eligible to take the bivalent booster shots. We should encourage our family and loved ones to get the new booster shot whenever possible to keep everyone safe from getting infected.
Furthermore, with China’s shaky reopening of their borders in just two days to come, the likelihood of XBB 1.5 spreading to our community is higher.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) may not be taking any measures to cushion the possible rise in COVID-19 numbers here. However, we can still do our part by vaccinating and building community immunity against the virus.
So far, MOH has reported that more than 586,000 people have taken the bivalent booster shot here in Singapore since December 2022. The take-up is only about 0.1% of our population, so the chances of infection could rise in the coming months as new subvariants come sweeping in.
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Getting Your 2nd Booster Shots
I will not be surprised if you forget whether it is acceptable to go for the booster shots without an appointment. After all, it must have been at least a year since our last booster shot.
The good news is that walk-ins are allowed for all Joint Testing and Vaccination Centres (JTVC) nationwide.
You can also book an appointment via your SMS invitation for the booster shot. It is better to choose a date if you wish to get the jab at any participating Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs), Polyclinics, Vaccination Centres (VCs) or even the JTVCs.
If you are unsure where to get your booster shots, you can check out VaccineGoWhere for the closest centres to your home, set up by GovTech and MOH.
In case you forgot what to do before and after getting jabbed again, remember to take ample rest and avoid strenuous activities for 14 days.
Hopefully, they will make another catchy vaccination song to encourage us to take the new booster shot. Pa jiam buay?
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