Health experts around the world are sounding the alarm as they begin to report that Omicron BA.5, the coronavirus strain that is currently surpassing other variants of infection and has become the dominant strain in the US and abroad, has the ability to kill people within weeks of contract the virus.
Andrew Roberston, the chief health officer in Western Australia, told News.com.au that while previously wisdom held that most people would maintain a certain level of protection against reinfection if they had been vaccinated or maintained a certain level of natural immunity due to a recent contraction of the virus, this has not been the case with the most recent strain.
“What we are seeing is an increasing number of people who have become infected with BA.2 and become infected after four weeks,” the doctor explained during an interview with the Australian news channel. “So maybe they develop a second infection in six to eight weeks, and that’s almost certainly BA.4 or BA.5.”
The ability of strains BA.4 and BA.5 to reinfect individuals who had stronger immunity in previous waves of Covid-19 has led some experts to call this latest strain the most transmissible to date.
“They’re taking over, so they’re clearly more contagious than previous variants of omicron,” David Montefiori, a professor at Duke University Medical Center’s Human Vaccine Institute, said in an interview with NBC News.
Federal estimates released Tuesday by the Center for Diseases Control and Prevention show that BA.5 has now overtaken the dominant strain in the US, accounting for about 54 percent of cases for the week ending July 2, 2022.
And while the average number of new cases the U.S. records each day has steadily hovered around 95,000 to 115.00, according to data from The New York Times, Experts fear that a combination of home testers not reporting positive cases, a closure of government-funded testing centers and an increase in states stopping their daily data updates has led to a less accurate picture of how much this new strain is actually entering the country. .
A study published in Science last week confirmed the disturbing reality that many may have already experienced anecdotally with multiple back-to-back reinfections: these two new sub-variants evade protection from previous infections and vaccines.
Immunology professor Danny Altmann, a co-author who studied the Science paper alongside Rosemary Boyton, a professor of immunology and respiratory medicine, discussed the findings of their research in a recent op-ed. They noted that, contrary to the popular belief that vaccines and previous infections would provide “a wall of immunity,” countries are instead experiencing “wave after wave of new cases.”
In the study, Prof. Altmann explains how they followed individuals who had been vaxxed three times and those who suffered breakthrough infections during previous Omicron waves.
“This will allow us to investigate whether Omicron was, as some hoped, a benign natural booster of our Covid immunity,” he wrote in the guard. “That turns out not to be the case.”
“Most people – even when vaccinated three times – had 20 times less neutralizing antibody response to Omicron than to the original ‘Wuhan’ strain,” said Mr. Altmann, noting that, most importantly, “Omicron infection was a poor booster of immunity to further Omicron infections”.
“It’s kind of a stealth virus that goes under the radar,” he said, stressing that “even if we’ve had Omicron, we’re not well protected from further infections.”
Mr. Altmann’s research appears to confirm other recent studies published in recent weeks that warn of the ability of the new subvariants to evade protection from previous immune-building precautions; namely vaccination and natural immunity.
Research published in Nature from Columbia University, a study yet to be peer-reviewed, suggests that BA.4 and BA.5 are four times more resistant to vaccine antibodies than BA.2, a subvariant that became the dominant strain in the US in April, replacing the original species that the winter wave had driven across the country.
While experts believe these current strains are likely to spark new waves, they noted that vaccines will provide partial immunity and still protect against potentially more serious infections.
“Our data suggest that these new Omicron subvariants are likely to lead to an increase in infections in populations with high vaccine immunity and natural BA1 and BA2 immunity,” said Dr. Dan Barouch to CNN. “It is likely that vaccine immunity will still provide substantial protection against serious diseases involving BA4 and BA5.”
dr. Barouch was one of the co-authors of a separate article, published with the New England Journal of Medicineshowing a 3-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies from vaccines and infection against BA.4 and BA.5, which was significantly lower than BA.1 and BA2.
Therefore, vaccines that many have received in the past 18 months probably need not only a boost, but an update.
The Federal Drug Administration last week recommended that Covid-19 vaccine makers, namely Pfizer and Moderna, begin modifying what they currently have to offer so that their booster shots can more accurately target the BA.4 and BA.5 variants. target and estimated that these shots could be available as early as mid-fall.