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Omicron Subvariant Becomes Dominant in the US

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A new omicron subvariant (BA.5) has become dominant in the United States. As of Saturday, the subvariant accounts for roughly 54% of the nation’s COVID-19 infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Omicron’s subvariant BA.4 makes up 17% more of the country’s infections.

COVID-19 has been a pain for humankind since Dec. 12, 2019. For a while, businesses were closed down and people were stuck inside their homes in fear of contracting the deadly virus.

Then pharmaceutical companies released a vaccine they had been developing to combat the virus. These vaccines gave people a fighting chance against the virus allowing them to return to a somewhat normal life.

omicron
Courtesy of Nenad Stojkovic (Flickr CC0)

Since the outbreak began, variants have emerged. Now the subvariants are “taking over.” “So clearly they’re more contagious than earlier variants of omicron,” according to David Montefiori, a professor at the Human Vaccine Institute at Duke University Medical Center.

These subvariants appear to be able to evade the protection that previous infections and vaccines provide.

BA.4 and BA.5 are estimated to be around three times less sensitive to neutralizing antibodies from existing COVID-19 vaccines than the original version of the omicron variants, stated Montefiori.

Additional studies imply that BA.4 and BA. 5 are four times more resistant to antibodies from the vaccines than BA.2. The BA.2  became the dominant strain, replacing the omicron variant, in the United States in April.

Last week a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee recommended modifying upcoming booster shots from Moderna and Pfizer to target the two omicron subvariants.

Pfizer believes they could have an updated vaccine targeting the BA.4 and BA.5 variants ready to distribute in October.

The director of the University College London Genetics Institute, Francois Balloux, believes there could be another reason the subvariants have become dominant. “At this stage now, I think all these variants actually are roughly equally transmissible, so there’s not a huge difference,” he stated.

It’s just some are slightly better at infecting people who have been vaccinated or infected by previous variants.

Experts are still advising people to become vaccinated and to receive their boosters. It is also recommended to wear a face mask while inside a highly trafficked area, like a grocery store, or during a large gathering.

If anyone is experiencing symptoms or has been exposed they should either use an at-home test or visit the nearest testing site.

Written by Sheena Robertson

Sources:

NBC News: BA.5, now dominant U.S. variant, may pose the biggest threat to immune protection yet
CDC: COVID-19 Timeline

Images Courtesy of Nenad Stojkovic‘s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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Cathrine Osborne, DM

Infectious Disease Physician

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