What Are the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 Variants?

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As scientists continue to monitor mutations of the COVID-19 virus, new variants and subvariants spring up from time to time. Two that have been discussed recently are the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of the Omicron variant, which already make up a good portion of the world’s COVID-19 cases. What are the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, and what do you need to know to continue staying safe? Read on below to find out.

What are these variants?

The Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants are the two newest subvariants of the Omicron COVID-19 variant. But what even is a variant, and what is a subvariant? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Viruses constantly change through mutation, and sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus. Some variants emerge and disappear while others persist.”

Omicron is a notable variant of COVID-19 because it has a much higher rate of transmission than other variants like Delta. The BA.4 and BA.5 variants of Omicron are notable because they’ve evolved in a way that lets them fight antibodies, your body’s natural protection against the virus.

How many of the current cases are from these variants?

While it can’t be conclusively determined how many of the current COVID-19 cases come from the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, there are several estimates. According to new CDC data, approximately 52 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S. come from one of these two variants.

An estimated 15.7% of cases come from the BA.4 variant, while 36.6% of cases come from BA.5. The Omicron BA.2.12.1 variant is still most prevalent, making up an estimated 42% of all current cases. Current data estimates that effectively 100% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. are now caused by one of Omicron’s subvariants.

Are these variants more dangerous than BA.2?

One important thing to keep in mind is that a higher number in the name doesn’t necessarily mean the subvariant is more dangerous or contagious. Omicron variants are named in order of discovery, so BA.4 and BA.5 are simply the most recently discovered forms of the variant.

As with the previous Omicron subvariants, the concern with this particular mutation of the disease is that it spreads incredibly quickly and is resistant to natural protections, so it’ll likely infect anyone who comes into contact with it, which can be a huge safety hazard for those who are elderly or immunocompromised. 

Will the vaccine still protect you?

While new variants like Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 can mutate to resist the antibodies you may have from the vaccine or prior infection, the vaccine still provides a high level of protection from infection and severe illness. There’s still talk of an Omicron-specific vaccine or booster shot, especially for those who are highly vulnerable.

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