Several subvariants of the COVID-19 omicron strain, primarily the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, have caused a sharp uptick in infections, hospitalizations and reinfections this month. The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are considered the most contagious variants and currently make up about 80% of COVID-19 cases across the United States.
A statement from the White House on July 12 detailed current strategies for dealing with the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, including a strong focus on making masks, testing kits and vaccines — particularly booster shots — more accessible.
“The science is clear that COVID-19 vaccines remain our single-most important tool to protect people and prevent serious illness, hospitalizations and deaths,” the statement said. “And staying up to date on booster shots ensures that people have the highest level of protection possible.”
The Food and Drug Administration voted June 28 to advise vaccine manufacturers to include components vaccinating against omicron variants in booster shots. The modified booster shots are planned for use starting in fall 2022.
“As we move into the fall and winter, it is critical that we have safe and effective vaccine boosters that can provide protection against circulating and emerging variants to prevent the most severe consequences of COVID-19,” said Peter Marks, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA.
The BA.5 variant can circumvent COVID-19 immunity from both previous infections and vaccinations and makes up 65% of current infections on its own, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s July 9 data.
While the BA.5 variant is highly infectious, thus far it seems to cause less severe illness than the previous variants. However, the high risk of reinfection means a higher risk of complications stemming from multiple infections, including increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems and diabetes.
Multiple infections can also result in post-COVID-19, or long-COVID symptoms, such as fatigue, joint pains, difficulty focusing and shortness of breath.
Hospitalization rates have increased due to the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but remain low in comparison to previous peaks, such as the delta variant in fall 2021.