In a record clip, a new variant of the coronavirus is on the way this summer.
It’s a variant of Omicron called BA.5, which is attracting attention mainly because it has strayed even further from the coronavirus we know than other Omicron variants.
In the past, being infected with Omicron meant you probably had some protection from reinfection for a few months.
But BA.5 strategically bypasses our defenses built up against earlier versions of the virus. All of this means that reinfection can occur – even in vaccinated and newly infected people up up.
So, yes, BA.5 is easier to catch than other variants, and it might feel like it’s lurking everywhere at the moment, infecting everyone, regardless of whether you’ve already received a vaccine, booster, and/or recent one attack of COVID-19.
“If you were infected with BA.1, you really don’t have good protection against BA.4/5,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, on Tuesday.
We asked four top public health experts to help us determine how concerned we should be about this new, extra-stealth Omicron subvariant.
Telling us how concerned we need to be about emerging infectious disease threats is typically what these people do for a living. But the BA.5 rating gave them a break.
“I can’t answer that,” said Dr. Celine Gounder, infectious disease expert and public health editor at Kaiser Health News. “Because it depends on your vaccination status, your age, your health, your job, your housing situation etc. etc.”
Others gave hard numbers, but their answers varied depending on where you live or who you are.
If you’re up to date on vaccines, one expert says your concern scale should be “3 out of 10.”
dr Preeti Malani, an infectious disease physician at the University of Michigan, was willing to give a hard and fast number. “I’d say 3 out of 10,” she said, expressing slight concern about the new variant.
“BA.5 is everywhere, and if you haven’t gotten it yet, chances are pretty good,” Malani said, adding, “But if you’re up to date on vaccines, the disease should be mild with no serious medical consequences.” .”
While there is a “high risk of exposure” with this variant, she said there are also “plenty of reasons to be hopeful.” Early treatment with Paxlovid is now free for all Americans who need it.
“With home testing and a quick link to treatment (for those at risk of complicated infection), COVID is manageable,” Malani said.
Older adults without a booster shot should be more concerned
In the UK, which is at least a few weeks ahead of the US in terms of variant spread, national health security experts have found that the protection offered by vaccines against BA.5 “is likely to remain comparable to that previously observed,” meaning vaccinated and boosted individuals, while certainly at risk of contracting BA.5, are unlikely to end up in the hospital or die.
For those who are not up to date on vaccinations and do not have a COVID-19 action plan, the results could be poor.
Earlier this week, the European Union published new recommendations for a second booster vaccination for all adults aged 60 and over, which are in line with the recommendations already recommended by the USA.
“We are currently seeing increasing reporting rates of COVID-19 cases and an increasing trend in ICU hospital admissions and occupancy in several countries, mainly driven by Omicron’s BA.5 sub-line,” Dr. Andrea Ammon, the director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said.
“There are still too many individuals at risk of severe COVID-19 infection that we need to protect as soon as possible,” she added.
Regionally different vaccination rates and heat waves can make the calculation difficult
Katelyn Jetelina, a public health expert who runs the popular blog Your Local Epidemiologist, was unwilling to provide a single figure for the entire US. She said the risk is too different at the moment depending on where you live.
“I’m pretty worried about the South,” she said, giving it a 7 out of 10 rating for the low rate of booster shots, low Paxlovid usage, little testing and “anyone who’s going inside because of the heat goes”.
The South also had a relatively low number of infections in the recent BA.2.12.1 wave, in contrast to the Northeast, where Jetelina said people should be of concern around 4 in 10.
Bottom line: If you’re empowered, wearing masks where appropriate, and have a testing and treatment plan in case you get sick, most experts agree you should be fine with this wave.
But as with all risk calculations, “the number will vary depending on who it’s applied to,” as Dr. Amesh Adalja, a senior scientist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said.
“If it’s a fresh lung transplant patient, the number would be 10. For a healthy 18-year-old, it would be 0,” he said. “Risk is not a one-size-fits-all.”
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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