‘More transmissible’ COVID variant – EG.5 – circulating in Canada

By Tina Tenneriello

Canadians who have not received a COVID-19 vaccine in the last few months are not well protected against a new “variant of interest,” according to an infectious disease specialist.

The EG.5 variant, part of a sublineage of Omicron, is circulating in Canada and around the world, leading to an uptick in cases.

Dr. Donald Vinh, a medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre, says it’s “more transmissible” than other recent variants and makes up roughly 30-35 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Canada.

Vinh says the original vaccines were not designed to target EG.5.

“We have to go back and think about the COVID vaccine strategy,” said Vinh. “Because the original vaccines were monovalent. In other words, they targeted that original strain.

“So if you’re in that category where you’ve only had two doses of vaccines and it was the original distribution of the vaccines, well then absolutely you’re not well protected.”

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The World Health Organization (WHO) is monitoring EG.5 – the variant unofficially dubbed “eris” – as of July 19.

It’s an offshoot of XBB.1.5, the predominant strain for the last several months. Because of that, Vinh says vaccines manufactured earlier this year do offer some level of protection “if you’ve gotten them within the last several months.”

While Vinh, the Montreal-based infectious disease specialist, calls EG.5 a “global phenomenon,” he acknowledges there are still some unknowns.

He says there’s “hard data” missing given the subvariant is so new, meaning it’s not exactly clear yet what the widespread repercussions can be.

“It doesn’t look like it causes more frequent severe disease or more severe disease in terms of complications,” said Vinh. “But again, that’s a bit biased by the fact that we don’t have full data on hospitalization and death rates.”

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