New highly-transmissible mutations of the Omicron variant of COVID, known as BA.4 and BA.5, have been rising worldwide. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these variants are the dominant strains of COVID in the United States, currently accounting for over 80% of cases .
Although much is still unknown about these strains, experts report that these variants may be able evade the antibodies caused by a previous infection or by vaccines. The ability to avoid some immune responses enhances these variants’ transmissibility. While this means that it could be easier to be infected by this variant, it does not necessarily imply that BA.4 or BA.5 is more severe or deadly than previous variants.
Research is ongoing worldwide to better understand these variants; these are just some of the things we know about the latest Omicron variants.
What are the symptoms of the new Omicron variants?
While BA.4 and BA.5 are newer variants, their reported symptoms are similar to previous COVID variants. Experts have noted that these Omicron variants have caused more upper respiratory, cold, and flu-like symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- Persistent cough
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle pain
Some patients, but not all, have also reported a loss of taste and smell. The presence and severity of symptoms can be affected by various factors such as vaccination, history of prior infection, age, and other health conditions.
Do current vaccines and treatments protect against these new variants?
According to current research, the BA.4 and BA.5 variants seem to be able to avoid some of the antibodies produced after vaccinations and infections. In a new study published in Nature, researchers conducted lab experiments to see how well antibodies from vaccinated individuals can neutralize the new variants.
The findings show that, compared to BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 are at least four times more resistant to antibodies in individuals who received mRNA vaccines . However, experts say that it is likely that vaccine immunity will still provide substantial protection against severe infection with BA4 and BA5 . Additionally, some vaccine makers have been developing variant-specific vaccines to improve antibody responses against COVID variants.
What steps can people take to protect themselves from BA.4 and BA.5?
Experts say that new COVID variants aren’t surprising, and variants like BA.4 and BA.5 are a natural part of a virus’ progression. The best way to prevent new variants from rising is to get vaccinated and get a booster shot since the more people are fully vaccinated, the less opportunity there is for the virus to spread and mutate. While the ability of vaccinations and boosters to prevent a case of COVID or prevent transmission is now less than before, they remain hugely valuable in preventing severe cases. According to the California Department of Public Health, unvaccinated individuals are more than five times more likely to get COVID than those who are vaccinated and boosted . Staying up-to-date on vaccinations is a key factor in keeping hospitalizations relatively manageable for now.
At-home COVID Testing With LetsGetChecked
While researchers are working to understand the new Omicron variants better, it remains important to continue following public health guidelines to help reduce your population’s risk of contracting the virus. PCR tests, including the LetsGetChecked Coronavirus Test, are still a reliable way to detect COVID-19 infection. Members of your population who are experiencing symptoms, have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, or would like peace of mind can test from the comfort of their homes with LetsGetChecked’s Coronavirus Test.