The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs is aware of a circulating statement on the XBB variant of COVID-19.
We wish to inform the public that this statement did not emanate from the Ministry of Health in Saint Lucia and that it contains some misinformation which requires clarification.
The XBB subvariant, which has been in circulation since mid to late 2022, is a recombinant subvariant; this means that it originated from the joining of two different omicron variants; BA.2.75 and BA2.10.1.
As is expected, this new manner of evolution of a subvariant has raised several concerns about potential changes in characteristics, including severity, immune evasion and transmissibility. As of December 21, 2022, the World Health Organization indicated that current evidence does not suggest increased severity associated with the XBB subvariant compared to the previous Omicron lineages.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, despite the increased COVID-19 hospitalizations, the areas with highest rates of this new variant have not experienced a disproportionate increase in hospitalizations. In late 2022, the World Health Organization had warned that given the waning immune response from previous waves of Omicron infection, combined with evolution of Omicron variants, there was a high probability of increased reinfections.
Currently, the XBB. 1.5 is considered the dominant Omicron subvariant in the United States, accounting for almost 40% of confirmed cases in that country. The XBB has also been documented in over 70 countries worldwide, resulting in COVID-19 spikes in these countries. Early evidence suggests that the XBB subvariant may possess an increased risk of reinfection compared to other Omicron subvariants.
Fortunately, vaccination is still considered the most effective measure in preventing the severe form of COVID-19, even against this new subvariant. COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are available at Wellness Centres around the island. Mask wearing, hand hygiene and avoiding others when you are ill will also reduce transmission to others. The Ministry of Health, Wellness and Elderly Affairs will continue to provide updates on this new COVID-19 subvariant. For more information, please contact the Office of the Chief Medical Officer or the Epidemiology Unit, at 468-5309/468-532