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Omicron Subvariants Escape Antibody Responses

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New data shows that the omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 appear to escape antibody responses among those who have had COVID-19 and people who have been fully vaccinated and boosted. Researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center of Harvard Medical School are the ones to release the alarming data.

Experts still expect COVID-19 vaccines to provide substantial protection against severe infections. Vaccine makers are working on strengthening the injections to provide people with a stronger immune response against COVID variants like omicron.

The levels of neutralizing antibodies that vaccinations or previous infection provide are several times lower against the omicron subvariants compared to the original COVID-19 virus, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Courtesy of CityofStPete (Flickr CC0)

The author of the paper and director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Dr. Dan Barouch,  released an email stating his team “observed 3-fold reductions of neutralizing antibody titers induced by vaccination and infection against BA4 and BA5 compared with BA1 and BA2, which are already substantially lower than the original COVID-19 variants.”

The data implies the “new Omicron subvariants will likely be able to lead to surges of infections in populations with high levels of vaccine immunity as well as natural BA1 and BA2 immunity.” However, Barouch believes that vaccinations “will still provide substantial protection against severe disease with BA4 and BA5.”

Columbia University scientists have released separate research that collaborates with the data Barouch’s team has discovered. The authors of that study state their results point to a higher risk for reinfection even if a person has had some sort of immunity against COVID-19.

It is estimated the omicron subvariants account for roughly 35% of all new COVID-19 infections in the U.S. Last week the subvariants accounted for 29% of those infected, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates around 94.7% of the American population aged 16 and older have COVID-19 antibodies. These individuals either contracted the virus, received vaccinations, or both.

It is still extremely possible that COVID-19, its variants, and subvariants could continue to mutate creating new infections. Experts are still advising people to become vaccinated or receive their booster shots to lower one’s chances of developing severe side effects from coronavirus.

Written by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

CNN: New coronavirus subvariants escape antibodies from vaccination and prior Omicron infection, studies suggest
The New England Journal of Medicine: Neutralization Escape by SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Subvariants BA.2.12.1, BA.4, and BA.5
CDC: COVID Data Tracker

Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Marco Verch Professional Photographer‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of CityofStPete’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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Cathrine Osborne, DM

Infectious Disease Physician

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