What we know about Omicron and the BA.5 variant

July 15, 2022 /

Accounting for 65 percent of last week’s COVID-19 cases, the coronavirus subvariant BA.5 — a sister variant of Omicron — has become dominant in the United States. 

With its mutations, the BA.5 variant can evade the immune protection afforded either by vaccination or prior infection. This has made it the most contagious strain so far, along with BA.4, another subvariant. 

“Various mutations, especially those in the spike protein, contribute to the infectiousness of this variant. These mutations allow the virus to evade immunity and infect cells more easily,” stated Michelle Corson, Program Manager/Public Relations Officer for the Kern County Public Health Services Department. “The people most at risk for severe illness are the same as other variants and include the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and the immunocompromised. Vaccination is still the safest most effective way to reduce the likelihood of severe illness.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) today that revealed that a third and fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose offered substantial protection among adults with healthy immune systems who were eligible to receive them during Omicron variant evolution in early 2022. The findings of this study, in conjunction with recently published data showing people infected with BA.2 may also have antibodies that can protect against illness with BA.5, suggest that currently available vaccines may provide protection against serious illnesses caused by the currently circulating BA.5 variant.

“Among the unvaccinated with this variant, they’re about fivefold more likely to get infected than people who have been vaccinated and boosted, about 7.5 times more likely to be hospitalized, and about 14 to 15 times more likely to die if they get infected,” stated Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic’s Vaccine Research Group.

As of today, Kern County Public Health has identified over 4,000 cases in Kern County caused by Omicron or its subvariants.  Public Health continues to urge residents to use layers of protection to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which include:

  • Getting vaccinated and boosted when eligible 
  • Staying home when sick  
  • Washing your hands often
  • Gathering outdoors or in other well-ventilated areas  
  • Get tested when symptomatic or after traveling/gathering 
  • Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly

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