BA.5, latest Omicron subvariant, is now dominant in U.S. and is expected to cause a new surge of infections if it hasn’t already
As coronavirus cases continue to tick up in Kentucky, a new Omicron subvariant, reported to be the most transmissible yet, is now dominant in the U.S., and wastewater testing in Louisville confirms that it’s the dominant strain there too.
“Viruses are smart,” Dr. Mark Burns, assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Louisville, told Sarah Ladd of the Courier Journal. “They know when they’re being attacked and they do what they can to change whatever so they can survive.”
The subvariants generally have the same symptoms as earlier versions of Omicron, reports Dani Blum of The New York Times. “People infected with BA.4 and BA.5 . . . are less likely to lose their senses of taste and smell, or to experience shortness of breath, as compared with those infected with Delta or other variants of the coronavirus, said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California, San Francisco.”
Tina Reed of Axios explains it this way: “Studies show extra mutations in the spike protein make the strain three or four times more resistant to antibodies, though it doesn’t appear to cause more serious illness.”
“BA.4/BA.5 certainly is more infectious compared to previous Omicron variants,” Yunlong Richard Cao, an immunologist at the Peking University in China, told Sanjay Mishra for National Geographic.
But that’s no reason not to get vaccinated, say health experts, who continue to strongly encourage vaccinations and booster shots because they continue to offer protection against severe disease and death.
“Immunity from current vaccines is still expected to provide robust protection against severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Dan Barouch, an immunologist at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told Mishra.
The FDA said its recommendation is for the primary vaccines to remain the same. “We have not advised manufacturers to change the vaccine for primary vaccination, since a primary series with the FDA-authorized and approved Covid-19 vaccines provides a base of protection against serious outcomes of Covid-19 caused by circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2,” it said.
All that said, National Geographic reports, “It’s unclear how the updated bivalent booster will fare against BA.4 and BA.5, since both the Moderna and Pfizer boosters generated a weaker antibody response to these subvariants than to BA.1.” FDA “has admitted that the bivalent booster is ‘already somewhat outdated.'”
“If you’re over 60, if you are have multiple medical problems [and are] on medications, you should seriously consider going out and getting that fourth dose,” Stack said. “Cases are rising and you want to keep your protection as high as you can. . . . Even if you’re probably in your 50s, and you have no major medical problems, it’s reasonable to talk with your personal physician if you would like and ask what their opinion is.”