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[WATCH] COVID Isn’t Over: New Omicron Subvariants Fuel Summer Outbreaks

[WATCH] COVID Isn’t Over: New Omicron Subvariants Fuel Summer Outbreaks

It might not be as bad as last summer thanks to vaccines, boosters, and previous infections, but not only is Covid not over, the virus is still mutating and spreading across the country once again.

The latest Omicron subvariant, BA.5, is quickly becoming the dominant strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It just took the top spot in the U.S, as of the last week of June, with BA.5 making up more than half of all new COVID-19 cases, according to new estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s up 10 percentage points compared to the prior week.

FILE – Linsey Jones, a medical assistant working at a drive-up COVID-19 testing clinic, wears an N95 mask, Jan. 4, 2022, in Puyallup, Wash., south of Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)

The highly contagious BA.5 strain can evade people’s built-up immunity, whether from vaccination or previous infection. Lab studies show that even people who have so-called “hybrid immunity” from vaccination and past infection with the Omicron BA.1 strain are less able to ward off reinfection from either the BA.4 or BA.5 strains. Experts believe this is due largely to changes in the virus’ spike proteins.

Vaccine manufacturers are trying to keep up with the virus. On June 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said that new booster shots for the fall must target BA.4 and BA.5. But while companies are developing new vaccines to specifically address Omicron, it’s still unclear how effective they will be in tackling the more recent subvariants, or, if the virus keeps evolving so rapidly, whether anything developed now will be outdated by the time it’s available.

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The hopeful news is that from what experts can tell so far, the BA.5 variant isn’t causing a more severe form of infection (although scientists are still gathering more data on this), the reported symptoms haven’t changed much, and death and hospitalization rates in the U.S. are lower than they were during the winter Omicron wave. In the meantime, experts recommend that people over 50 not delay getting their boosters, since the risk of infection right now is high, and that all Americans get vaccinated if they haven’t already.

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