In this week’s session on the current corona situation, the Gecko Commission covered a new ommicron subvariant first discovered in Austria in early September. BJ.1 is a variant of BA.2.10.1 that has a large number of additional mutations on the spike protein. The number and location of BJ.1 mutations indicate strong immune escape properties.
“It is currently unclear to what extent BJ.1 can better evade immune protection due to the particularly large number of new mutations,” says virologist Andreas Bergthaler, who also works with Gecko. The expert emphasized: “The prognosis for the further spread of BJ.1 is currently difficult.”
To date, only a few cases of BJ.1 have occurred internationally. In Austria, the ommicron subvariant BA.5 is still dominant. According to the most recent variant report from the Agency for Health and Food Safety (AGES), in calendar week 36 (September 5-11) of 28,942 officially confirmed corona infections, 6,202 were assigned to BA.4/BA.5 during sequencing.
mRNA vaccinations favourite
In Austria there is currently an increase in the number of cases in all age groups, especially in the age group from 5 to 14 years. “It is still unclear to what extent the increase in the number of cases can be attributed to a change in testing behaviour, the end of the holiday or epidemiological reasons,” the Gecko Commission said. When it comes to vaccines to protect against Covid-19, mRNA technology is still considered the most mature technology. According to the Gecko experts, this and the extremely rapid scalability of large quantities of vaccine suggest that it will remain the leading technology for immunization, especially as the vaccines can be quickly adapted to new variants.
Full immunization lowers long-term risk of Covid
The committee also ventured a vaccination prognosis for the coming year. The coming winter could therefore serve as a “measurement” for future vaccination scenarios in Austria. “From the current perspective, it is not possible to say with certainty whether the Covid-19 vaccination will only be needed for the general population for the cold season or whether multiple vaccinations per person will continue to be necessary, as the emergence of new virus variants and the resulting changes in the effectiveness of the vaccination cannot be estimated,” explains Kollaritsch. The most likely scenario is that the elderly and patients at risk are likely to need more than one vaccination per season. In any case, studies show that full immunization reduces the risk on long-term Covid is significantly reduced.