By Michael Erman
NEW YORK (Reuters) -COVID infections and hospitalizations are on the rise in the U.S., Europe and Asia. Health officials are pointing at the EG.5 “Eris” coronavirus, a subvariant of the Omicron lineage that originally emerged November of 2021.
WHAT IS THE NEW ‘ERIS’ VARIANT?
The World Health Organization (WHO) classified EG.5, which has been nicknamed by some as “Eris”, as a “variant of interest,” indicating that it should be more closely watched than others because of mutations that might make it more contagious or severe.
Still, the WHO said at this time it does not seem to pose more of a threat to public health than other variants and that there “is no evidence of an increase in disease severity directly associated with EG.5.”
HOW FAST IS ‘ERIS’ SPREADING?
EG.5 had been found in more than 50 countries as of August 8, according to the WHO. It is the most common and fastest growing COVID-19 subvariant in the U.S., estimated to be responsible for around 17% of current COVID cases, according to the CDC.
COVID-19 related hospitalizations are up more than 40% off of recent lows hit in June, but are still more than 90% below peak levels hit during the January 2022 Omicron outbreak, according to CDC data.
The amount of virus identified in wastewater around the country and the number of weekly prescriptions for COVID treatment Paxlovid have all risen significantly over the past month, albeit from low levels.
WHEN WILL THE NEW BOOSTER BE AVAILABLE?
Pfizer/BioNTech SE, Moderna and Novavax have all created new versions of their vaccines updated to target another Omicron sublineage – XBB.1.5 – to more closely resemble the various circulating strains of the virus.
EG.5 is similar to XBB.1.5 although the newer subvariant carries one mutation to its spike protein, the part of the virus targeted by the vaccine.
XBB.1.5 emerged in late 2022 and was still responsible for more than 10% of infections as of August 5, per CDC estimates. CDC Director Dr. Mandy Cohen said in a recent interview that she expects the new vaccines to be widely available in the U.S. by the third or fourth week in September.
Cohen did not address the Eris variant specifically, but said “right now what we’re seeing with the changes in the viruses, they’re still susceptible to our vaccine, they’re still susceptible to our medicines, they’re still picked up by the tests. So all of our tools still work as the virus changes.”
(Reporting by Michael Erman; editing by Caroline Humer and Diane Craft)