Vaccines are still effective against the highly contagious BA.2 sub-variant
“It does have increased transmission capability,” Fauci said. But all is not lost. The variant still responds to vaccines.
“However, when you look at the cases, they do not appear to be any more severe and they do not appear to evade immune responses either from vaccines or prior infections," Fauci added.
A variant of concern
The World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement last month about the new variant.
"Based on available data of transmission, severity, reinfection, diagnostics, therapeutics, and impacts of vaccines, the group reinforced that the BA.2 sublineage should continue to be considered a variant of concern and that it should remain classified as Omicron. The group emphasized that BA.2 should continue to be monitored as a distinct sublineage of Omicron by public health authorities," read the note.
The organization added that BA.2 is currently the dominant variant circulating globally and is considered as a "sublineage" of the highly transmissible omicron variant. BA.2 carries a different genetic sequence than its predecessor BA.1 and was first referred to as the "stealth variant" because it wasn't as easy to detect.
BA.2 is considered about 50% to 60% more transmissible than omicron and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 31,200 new Covid-19 cases Saturday, including 958 deaths. Numbers however still remain lower than they were last year.
New data released by the CDC this week reveals the variant is spreading more quickly in the Northeast and West of the U.S. The CDC further noted that the BA.2 variant is on its way to becoming the dominant strain, having roughly doubled each week for the past month.
What still remains unknown is if BA.2 causes as severe symptoms as did omicron BA.1.
"We often don't know until it's too late," Stephanie Silvera, an infectious disease specialist at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, told USA Today. "That's been the problem with managing these surges. Deaths are one of the last impacts we see."
Preparation not panic
In times like this, it is normal to panic but U.S. health experts saught to reassure people. U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said on Sunday during Fox News Sunday that the variant could result in a new rise in cases but that the U.S. was better equipped to tackle these incidents now than two years ago when the virus “defined our lives.”
“We should be prepared, COVID hasn’t gone away,” Murthy said.” “Our focus should be on preparation, not on panic.”
Meanwhile, health officials around the world continue to stress that preventative measures such as coronavirus vaccines and boosters remain the best ways to prevent serious illness from the virus.