Summer 2022. The most contagious variant of COVID-19 has triggered a new wave of infections across the United States. As the pandemic continues to ebb and flow, new variants and subvariants, continue to emerge. Yale Medicine reports that as of July 2022, BA.5, a subvariant of Omicron has become the predominant strain in the US. BA.5 is reported to be the most contagious subvariant of Omicron to date, responsible for over 50% of documented COVID-19 cases.
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At its genesis, Omicron was considered a milder version of COVID-19, having a lower mortality rate and symptom-severity than Delta, the strain that preceded it. Data from the National Institute of Communicable Diseases based in South Africa reported the discovery of BA.4 January 2022 and BA.5 about a month later. Both of which have similar symptoms to Omicron. Nevertheless, the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that severity of symptoms fluctuate due to age, vaccination history, and/or underlying health conditions.
In March of this year, another Omicron subvariant BA.2 otherwise known as the “stealth” variant in Europe, was estimated 1.5 times more transmissible than the original Omicron strain which experts said was likely “usurp it as the globally dominant variant.”
In China, BA.2 and, most recently BA.5, led to a series of strict lockdowns and curfews in hopes of curbing infections. Drastic measures to limit transmissions have been seen in places such as Shanghai. Following the government's “Zero COVID” strategy, residents were reportedly forced to remain in their households for weeks, unable to buy groceries and basic necessities due to shortages and delays amongst the lockdowns.
Other countries across Asia have and the world continue to see a rise in cases, however most have switched to a “living with COVID” policy as the U.N. says Zero COVID is not sustainable, and the WHO pushes for countries to continue to roll out vaccines, and enforce mask mandates where needed.
Experts have reported that BA.4 and BA.5 appear to demonstrate stronger resistance to vaccines and antibodies. Several vaccine manufacturers are currently in the process of including a COVID-19 Omicron component in COVID-19 vaccines, thereby better protecting against subvariants. Modified boosters, according to the FDA, hopefully will be available in early fall.
Health Professionals advise staying up-to-date about information, data, and vaccination opportunities, strongly spotlighting the necessity of receiving a vaccine and/or booster. These new mutations require vigilance and attention; everyone must do their part to minimize infections.