New research released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the highly transmissible Omicron BA.5 subvariant now accounts for 65 percent of current Covid-19 cases in the United States.
“We do know [BA.5] to be more transmissible and more immune-evading,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during Tuesday’s media briefing. “People with prior infection, even with BA.1 or BA.2, are likely still at risk for BA.4 and BA.5,” Walensky added.
Despite the concerning backdrop, Dr. Ashish Jha, coordinator of the White House’s Covid-19 response team, noted that the country is equipped with the tools needed to prevent most Americans from getting seriously ill.
“We know how to manage it,” he said during a virtual press briefing, per Yahoo News. “We can prevent serious illness. We can save lives and we can minimize disruptions caused by Covid-19.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, acknowledged that the BA.5 subvariant “substantially evades neutralizing antibodies” induced in those who have been inoculated or previously infected. However, he did add that the currently available vaccines are “still effective at preventing severe Covid-19 outcomes.”
“If you are not vaccinated to the fullest … then you’re putting yourself at an increased risk that you can mitigate against by getting vaccinated,” Fauci warned.
According to the latest CDC data, 67 percent of the U.S. population is considered fully vaccinated, but only 47 percent of those eligible for booster shots have received one.
“It’s very, very clear … that immunity wanes, whether that’s immunity following infection or immunity following vaccination,” Fauci said. “If you were infected with BA.1, you really don’t have good protection against [infection with] BA.5.”
In response to the surge of BA.5 cases, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that the next round of booster shots, likely rolling out this fall, will be modified to target the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, in addition to the original strain of the virus.
“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,” Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, said in a statement.
According to CNBC, the United States is reporting an average of nearly 104,000 coronavirus infections per day, which is nearly double the number of reported cases at the start of May. Currently, more than 16,600 patients are hospitalized with the virus across the country.
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Finance and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.