Health + Wellness

What You Need to Know About the Omicron BA.2 Subvariant


Omicron

The new Omicron subvariant, BA.2, is spreading across the United States and will soon take over as the major COVID variant, White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.

“Ultimately it will be the predominant variant in this country,” Fauci told HealthDay. “It’s occupying about 85% of the variants in the world, and somewhere around 30%-plus of the variants in the United States. It has what’s called the transmission advantage, which means it transmits a bit more efficiently than the BA.1, which is the original Omicron variant.”

However, Fauci and other infectious disease experts do not believe BA.2 will wreak the sort of havoc caused by earlier variants.

COVID cases might rise, perhaps even surge in some locales, but the experts are cautiously optimistic that BA.2 will not cause a sharp increase in hospitalizations and deaths — or an immediate need to return to masking and social distancing.

That’s partly because BA.2 is not a completely new COVID variant, as were Delta and Omicron, Dr. William Schaffner, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases notes.

“You can almost think of it as ‘Son of Omicron.’ It’s slightly different, but not very different,” Schaffner says.

“It appears to be even more contagious than Omicron is, if you can imagine,” Schaffner continues. “But there are two characteristics about BA.2 that are fortunate. The first is that it appears not to produce more severe disease. And the second is that it would appear our current vaccines provide just about the same degree of protection against BA.2 that they do against Omicron.”

Omicron BA.2 is rolling through the United Kingdom and the European Union, and those countries are providing a forecast for what Americans might expect, Fauci, who is also director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases says.

“They are having an uptick in cases that does not seem to be accompanied by an uptick in severity of disease as manifested by an unusual increase in hospitalizations,” Fauci adds. “So, even though there appears to be more cases, they’re not seeing an increase in utilization of intensive care unit beds, which is a reflection that there does not appear to be more severity of disease associated with BA.2.”

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Protection from hospitalization, if not infection

Sadly, scientists have learned that vaccine protection appears to wane “pretty easily” in both the vaccinated and those who’ve suffered a natural infection, Fauci notes.

“If you look at the vaccine efficacy and you measure just symptomatic infection, after a few months following either infection and/or

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