MONDAY, Oct. 17, 2022 (HealthDay News) – New, more contagious omicron variants are starting to spread across the United States, new government data show.

Luckily, these variants are related to the Omicron variant BA.5, so recently updated booster shots should provide some protection against the new variants, known as BQ.1 and a descendant called BQ.1.1. Together, they now make up more than 10 percent of new infections in this country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

“When you get variants like that, you look at what their rate of increase is as a relative proportion of the variants, and this has a pretty troublesome doubling time,” Anthony Fauci, M.D., President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, told CBS News.

Scientists first named BQ.1 in September. That strain and its descendant together now comprise about 11.4 percent of U.S. infections, while BA.5 accounts for 70 percent of new cases and BA.4.6 is responsible for just over 12 percent of current infections.

“While BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 represent a small but fast-growing subset of the omicron variant, BA.5 remains the dominant lineage in the United States,” CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund said in a statement.

Previously, the CDC did not separate the two new variants in its weekly report because they “were circulating at less than 1 percent in the empiric data,” CBS News reported. Even so, the freshly reformulated boosters from Moderna and Pfizer that were approved in September could help blunt a BQ.1 surge, Fauci noted. Those boosters had been available for Americans ages 12 years and older but are now available for children ages 5 years and older.

So far, more than 14.7 million Americans have received those booster shots, or about 7 percent of the 209 million Americans who were eligible before they were approved last week for younger children.

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