New COVID-19 Subvariant Threatening the U.S.

Just when we thought we would have a break, the coronavirus has a mind of its own as it continues to mutate and evade immunity. The latest subvariant of Omicron known as BA.5 is the most immune-invading and the most transmissible yet. Alongside subvariant BA.4, it’s creating an outbreak of cases and hospitalizations in the United States. The Department of Health and Human Services has extended the public emergency declaration to October as cases continue to rise.

The difference with BA.5 as opposed to other variants is its biology. It has a higher capability of transmitting, growing, and evading immunity. One way it does this is by dodging the body’s immune system. Together, BA.4 and BA.5 are the most immune-evasive variants seen in multiple studies. Here is what is known about BA.5 so far:

  • It has a knack for bypassing immunity from vaccinations and prior infections. Researchers have found that neutralizing antibody responses against BA.4 and BA.5 were much, much lower than against the original Omicron strain. This explains why they’ve spread faster than other Omicron variants. The dominance of this variant is also because more Americans have dropped public-health measures, such as masking.
  • BA.5 threatens to prolong the national rise in COVID-19 cases. The numbers of cases rose steadily throughout April and May as other highly transmissible Omicron subvariants spread nationwide, and numbers remained elevated through June.
  • Evidence is waning on BA.5 causing more severe disease. South Africa had a surge in cases of BA.4 and BA.5 through the spring months, despite 90 percent of the population having some immunity against the virus. However, there wasn’t a sharp rise in deaths that accompanied the surge, and the wave was not as high as previous COVID-19 waves, according to The New York Times.
  • Vaccine makers have been instructed by the FDA to recreate COVID-19 vaccines to target BA.4 and BA.5. Scientists agree that the need to update the vaccine is vital. Vaccine makers are working to finalize and create the shots in time for the fall season.

Experts admit it’s still too early to predict what the latest subvariants may bring to the U.S. Knowing that the virus is spreading, however, should reinforce safety measures such as high-quality face masks, better air filtration, and of course, vaccines. The best way to prevent new variants is to get vaccinated and boosted. When more people are fully vaccinated, it decreases the chance for the virus to spread and mutate.

From the Magazine

This article was published in our quarterly print magazine, which covers relevant topics in greater depth featuring leading experts in the industry. Subscribe to receive the quarterly print issue in your mailbox. All registered independent pharmacies in the U.S. are eligible to receive a free subscription.

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