New omicron subvariants vs. vaccines: Here’s what you need to know
The new omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 account for more than 70% of cases and have the ability to evade antibodies. What does this mean for immunity and vaccines?
The new COVID-19 subvariants are the reason behind the latest surge in infections in the United States.
BA.4 and BA.5, first identified in South Africa, together make up over 70% of cases, while the “stealth” omicron variant accounts for 27.3% of cases.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new omicron subvariants.
Do vaccines work against the new omicron strains?
The latest study from the University of Geneva explored the omicron variant and its interaction with the immune system.
Researchers found that this COVID-19 mutation has the ability to evade antibodies generated by the original or delta strain.
But those who are vaccinated will have antibodies that remain “far superior to natural immunity alone,” per Science Daily. The study goes on to state that antibody levels are 10 times higher through vaccination.
“Thus, omicron can evade existing immunity and cause an infection, but hospitalisation and death due to COVID-19, even with omicron, is still reduced after vaccination,” said Isabella Eckerie, a professor in the Department of Medicine at the UNIGE Faculty of Medicine, who led the study.
“Vigilance is still required, especially as the epidemiological curves have been rising sharply since the appearance of BA.5, the most recent omicron subvariant,” she added, referencing COVID-19’s ability to mutate.
When are we getting a new COVID-19 shot?
A new COVID-19 shot may be required to offer protection against the new omicron subvariant. Last week, the Food and Drug Administration made a decision about the next round of doses.
“We have advised manufacturers seeking to update their COVID-19 vaccines that they should develop modified vaccines that add an omicron BA.4/5 spike protein component to the current vaccine composition ... so that the modified vaccines can potentially be used starting in early to mid-fall 2022,” said Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, per CNN.
It’s worth noting that the FDA did not advise that the original vaccine be changed for those who aren’t vaccinated.
Last Wednesday, U.S. officials said they had agreed to buy 105 million of Pfizer’s COVID-19 doses. According to The Associated Press, these updated vaccines should be delivered in early fall.
What are the top omicron symptoms to look out for?
As I previously reported, omicron subvariants have a shorter incubation period, which is why the symptoms may appear earlier.
The most common omicron-related symptoms are:
- Runny nose.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has listed common symptoms for COVID-19. The symptoms are:
- Fever or chills.
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Muscle or body aches.
- New loss of taste or smell.
- Sore throat.
- Congestion or runny nose.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Is it easier to get reinfected with the new omicron subvariants?
The newer subvariants have the ability to evade immunity from vaccines or prior infections, or both, per the Deseret News.
Since BA.4 and BA.5 have become the dominant strains, Dr. Wesley Long, an experimental pathologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, told CNN that he has seen cases of reinfection
“I have seen some cases of reinfection with people who had a BA.2 variant in the last few months,” he added. While vaccine immunity helps lower the severity of infection, it doesn’t offer complete protection.
What are other omicron subvariants to watch for?
Apart from BA.2.12.1, BA.4 and BA.5, experts have found another new subvariant that originates from the omicron BA.2 subvariant — the BA.2.75.
Per DW News, this new mutation is quickly spreading in India, with 70 reported cases worldwide.
Are omicron symptoms worse if you’ve never had COVID-19 before?
Although peer-reviewed research isn’t available on the topic, experts say that the first infection is worse than the second, as the Deseret News previously reported.
“In general, reinfections should be less severe than primary infections, as the person being reinfected will have some preexisting immunity from their primary infection,” according to Gavi, a global vaccination organization.
Theodora Hatziioannou, a virologist at Rockefeller University, said COVID-19 reinfections are typically pretty mild.