News about COVID-19 nearing the end of its pandemic phase and moving onto endemicity have surfaced in the past week. Although the scientific community was optimistic that the 2-year long pandemic is coming to an end, virologists and infectious disease experts did warn about the high potential for new variants.
It seems that predictions of a new strain have come to life, with an Omicron subvariant, called BA.2, being identified in many parts of the world.
BA.2 Omicron Subvariant
Almost half of the 55 States of the U.S. have confirmed cases of a new COVID-19 strain, BA.2, a subvariant of the Omicron, also known as BA.1. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 127 BA.2 cases in the U.S. or 8% of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases, which is a relatively small proportion compared to the influx of cases in other nations.
Initial observations reveal that the BA.2 subvariant presents significantly unique mutations compared to its predecessor. Having five mutations on its spike protein, BA.2 is much more able than Omicron to attach to and invade the body’s cells.
According to Troels Lillebaek, a chairman of the committee conducting surveillance of the BA.2 variant in Denmark, its mutations on its receptor-binding spike proteins make the subvariant 1.5 times more transmissible than Omicron.
In a span of a little over a week, BA.2 has overtaken the surge of Omicron in the same period and has been deemed by the U.K. Health Security Agency to have a “substantial growth advantage” over Omicron. In fact, as of writing, BA.2 accounts for over 82% of all COVID-19 cases in Denmark.
Are We Prepared for BA.2?
With the new variant looming, the big question now is whether or not we are ready for the possible reign of BA.2. According to the UK. Health Security Agency and CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund, however, there is yet to be strong evidence that BA.2 is more severe and destructive than Omicron. Likewise, the World Health Organization has not classified BA.2 as a variant of concern.
A preliminary assessment showed that current vaccines remain effective against BA.2, especially after a booster shot. Boosters are 70% effective at preventing severe illnesses associated with BA.2 symptoms.
As far as we can decipher from initial observations and assessments of BA.2, our best line of defense against this new variant is getting a COVID-19 vaccine and booster, plus basic health and safety measures such as mask-wearing, physical distancing, frequent sanitizing, and staying home when possible.