The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now estimates BA.5 accounts for about 65% of all COVID cases in the U.S. Another strain, BA.4, is responsible for about 16% of infections.
“BA.5 is something we’re closely monitoring, and most importantly, we know how to manage it,” Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID response coordinator, said Tuesday at the White House.
“We can prevent serious illness, we can keep people out of the hospital and especially out of the ICU, we can save lives, and we can minimize the disruptions caused by COVID-19,” Jha said. “And even in the face of BA.5, the tools we have continue to work.”
BA.5 concerns scientists because it can infect people who have already had COVID or been vaccinated.
Last month, a panel of independent advisers that works with the Food and Drug Administration recommended producing new COVID vaccines to target the Omicron variant.
By a 19-2 vote, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee approved a plan to have new vaccines ready by early October. The panel said the newly formulated vaccines are needed because new subvariants of the Omicron strain appear to be able to bypass antibodies delivered via previous vaccines.
That would mean Americans could be urged to take a fourth shot, with fifth shots for the immunocompromised and people over 50 years old.
The move comes as a new COVID wave is starting in New York City, and a top epidemiologist there says it’s from one of the stronger subvariants of Omicron.
SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID, has been morphing to stay alive — and there are now at least 11 variants and subvariants, according to one health site.
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top immunologist in the U.S., acknowledged on Tuesday that vaccines against COVID “don’t protect overly well” from infection but said they are still necessary.
“One of the things that’s clear from the data [is] that even though vaccines — because of the high degree of transmissibility of this virus — don’t protect overly well, as it were, against infection, they protect quite well against severe disease leading to hospitalization and death,” he said.
“And I believe that’s the reason … why at my age, being vaccinated and boosted, even though it didn’t protect me against infection, I feel confident that it made a major role in protecting me from progressing to severe disease,” he also said. “That’s very likely why I had a relatively mild course.”
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.