Cases of “Kraken” COVID-19 variant found in BC
The number of lab-confirmed cases of the new “Kraken” COVID-19 variant has more than doubled over the last week in British Columbia, according to the provincial health officer.
In a one-on-one interview with CTV News, Dr. Bonnie Henry said there were 12 “isolations” of the XBB.1.5 Omicron sub-variant identified through lab testing as of Wednesday, compared to just five last week.
“It is a concern. This virus changes, that’s what we know,” she said. “I expect we’ll see some more but it’s still a very small percentage, so we’re not seeing that rapid takeoff that we’ve seen in some places in the U.S., for example.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimated 1.3 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in that country were XBB.1.5 in early December, but by the end of the month that had mushroomed to 40 per cent.
While widespread lab-testing collapsed a year ago during Omicron’s original surge in B.C., Henry said public health officials are tracking prevalence of overall COVID-19 infections and variants through wastewater testing, hospitalizations and what little community testing is still available – largely among seniors and those at high risk.
The academics and independent researchers in the BC COVID-19 modelling group have estimated lab-confirmed cases underrepresent real-world spread by about 100 times.
‘KRAKEN’ VARIANT MORE CONTAGIOUS AND VACCINE-RESISTANT
While the latest Omicron sub-variant has been nicknamed “Kraken” by a handful of researchers, experts are largely avoiding the moniker, which they have criticized as being wildly sensationalist.
On Wednesday, however, the World Health Organization was unequivocal that the XBB.1.5 sub-variant is the most contagious strain of COVID-19 ever seen. And while there’s no clear evidence it makes people sicker, it’s ability to infect more people is already leading to increased hospitalizations in the United States.
There are also signs it’s more immune-evasive, meaning vaccination and previous infections are less effective at preventing spread.
VACCINES EMPHASIZED BUT NO NEW STRATEGY
Henry and the WHO alike emphasized the importance of up-to-date vaccinations, especially bivalent boosters, as providing the best defence against serious illness, even though they’re not as effective against the new sub-variant.
“At the end of the day it’s still Omicron and what we’re seeing across the board is that vaccination still gives you good, strong protection against severe illness,” Henry said.
When CTV News asked if she planned to change her approach to encouraging vaccination to catch the attention of the many British Columbians who haven’t been boosted, Henry reiterated that “if you have not had a bivalent booster then by all means, now is the time to do it.”
After some hiccups initially, the annual influenza immunization campaign and the fall booster rollout have settled and it’s much easier to get a vaccination for either or both; community clinics and pharmacies are still offering them across B.C.