This is the #1 Way You'll Get New COVID Variant, According to Doctors
Just as people are getting to grips with the "stealth" Omicron subvariant, two new variants have appeared on the horizon: BA.4 and BA.5. The new strains originated in South Africa, and appear to be even more transmissible than their predecessors. "It's most likely got an advantage over BA.1 and BA.2, so BA.4 and BA.5 as well have got mutations which suggest it could evade immunity and that means previous infection and vaccines might not give that much protection against being reinfected," says University of Otago virologist Dr Jemma Geoghegan. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
Who Is Protected From New Variants?
As with Omicron, vaccination and boosters will be key in fighting infection and transmission. "If you were vaccinated and had Omicron, your protection is decent, at least against severe disease," says Alex Sigal, Ph.D, a professor at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa. "If anybody is protected, it should be these people."
When Did BA.4 and BA.5 Originate?
"BA.4 and BA.5 are estimated to have originated in mid-December 2021 and early January 2022, respectively," says Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI). "BA.4 and BA.5 are distinct from other Omicron lineages."
Immunity From Infection Won't Prevent BA.4 and BA.5
Researchers at CERI have discovered that previous infection won't prevent getting BA.4 and BA.5, but vaccination makes it less likely. "The low absolute neutralization levels for BA.4 and BA.5, particularly in the unvaccinated group, are unlikely to protect well against symptomatic infection," CERI researchers say. "This may indicate that, based on neutralization escape, BA.4 and BA.5 have potential to result in a new infection wave."
How Are These Variants Different?
Experts say that so far, it doesn't look like BA.4 and BA.5 are significantly different from previous variants. "The variant mix might change a little but there's nothing to suggest at the moment that we're going to get a really big new wave or even that these new variants being reported are really going to change the landscape," says Covid-19 modeler David Welch. "Some of the variants that have been reported on recently like XE, also like BA.4 and BA.5, yes they are different, they might have slightly different behaviors, but they're not going to be … the game changers that we've seen with Alpha, Delta or Omicron."
How Dangerous Are the New Variants?
So far, BA.4 and BA.5 are not displaying the more worrying signs of COVID-19, experts say. "I haven't seen early symptoms of respiratory distress, the major COVID-specific symptom that makes this disease so dangerous," says Dr. Sigal. "It doesn't feel nice, but there's less chance of dying. They're not so different from what was there before. They're not going to do a huge amount of damage even though they might do a lot of infection. When I see something completely different, that's when it's time to really get concerned."
The #1 Way You'll Get New Variants
As with Omicron, vaccination and boosters will be key in fighting infection and transmission—and those unprotected are most at risk. "If you were vaccinated and had Omicron, your protection is decent, at least against severe disease," says Alex Sigal, Ph.D, a professor at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa. "If anybody is protected, it should be these people."
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated or boosted ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.