You can now get COVID again within 4 weeks due to the new Omicron BA.5 variant, health expert says

Omicron BA.5 is becoming the dominant COVID strain in the US.

One expert called it “the worst version of the virus that we’ve seen.”

It is 4 times more resistant to antibodies and may reinfect people in a matter of weeks.

Health experts in the US and abroad have found that the coronavirus variant currently responsible for most infections in the US, Omicron BA.5, can quickly reinfect people who already have protection against the virus.

People who have been vaccinated, received antibody treatments, or developed natural immunity from contracting the virus were previously thought to have a lower risk of getting COVID-19, at least in the months following exposure.

However, Chief Health Officer of Western Australia Andrew Robertson told news.com.au that he’s seeing people get reinfected with COVID-19 in a matter of weeks.

“What we are seeing is an increasing number of people who have been infected with BA2 and then becoming infected (again) after four weeks,” he said. “So maybe six to eight weeks (later) they are developing a second infection, and that’s almost certainly either BA4 or BA5.”

As of July 2, Omicron BA.5 was responsible for about 53% of COVID infections in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. BA.4, another contagious Omicron subvariant, accounted for 16.5% of the infections.

Reinfections with BA.5 and BA.4 are typically less severe compared to early COVID infections, David Dowdy, MD, epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Insider. As the virus has evolved some resistance to antibodies, immune systems are also learning to respond to it without making the body go haywire, he said.

Latest subvariants are extra resistant to antibodies
Like previous Omicron subvariants, BA.5 and BA.4 s are known to have mutations that let them evade protection against the virus from COVID-19 vaccines or prior infections.

While the immune system still churns out antibodies to neutralize a potential infection, that protection tapers off over time. It’s not an on-off switch, Dowdy said — but if someone is exposed to a tricky subvariant as their protection is waning, the virus may find an opening.

Story continues
The latest on the coronavirus
For the Harvard Chan community: Find the latest updates, guidance, useful information, and resources about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) here.

In the wake of an outbreak of coronavirus that began in China in 2019, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health experts have been speaking to a variety of media outlets and writing articles about the pandemic. We’ll be updating this article on a regular basis. Here’s a selection of stories in which they offer comments and context:

Evidence is unclear as to whether people who continue to test positive on rapid COVID antigen tests even after they feel better, and after five or more days, are still infectious, according to experts. James Hay, postdoctoral research fellow, said that while there’s a lot of variation across studies, he thinks the overall finding suggests that “if you’re antigen positive, then you’re quite likely to be infectious.”

June 28: Biden Claims Too Much Credit for Decline in COVID-19 Deaths (FactCheck.org)

Although some Biden administration policies—including promoting vaccination, mask-wearing, and testing—have helped bring down the number of COVID deaths, most of the decline has been due to factors beyond the president’s control, according to experts. “The decline can largely be attributed to the level of immunity in the population,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, public health preparedness fellow. “Vaccine uptake has been a huge contributing factor to the decline, as those who are vaccinated are far less likely to be hospitalized and die from COVID. Natural immunity has likely played a role as well though the quantification of this is less clear.”

June 27: US grapples with whether to modify COVID vaccine for fall (AP)

Updating COVID boosters “is more likely to be helpful” than simply providing additional doses of the current COVID vaccines, according to William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology.

June 25: Already Had COVID? Here’s Where You Could Catch it Again (Eat This, Not That)

Indoor gyms, bars, offices, nursing and retirement homes, and crowded indoor events are all likely places where people can get reinfected with COVID, given that new Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are circulating. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was quoted.

North Korea is likely experiencing a huge COVID-19 outbreak, according to experts, and it’s likely that much of the population is unvaccinated. “Controlling omicron in the absence of vaccination is a ghastly task,” said William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology. “We can expect a very rapid surge.” He estimated that North Korea could see around 50,000 deaths, and several times that many hospitalizations.

June 24: Does Your A/C Spread COVID? We Asked an Expert (Eat This, Not That)

Being indoors with other people is what propels the spread of COVID-19—not air conditioning, according to Edward Nardell, professor in the departments of Environmental Health and Immunology and Infectious Diseases. “It is not the air conditioner that is doing anything particularly,” he said. “It is the fact that you are indoors, you are not socially distancing and you are rebreathing the air that people have just exhaled.” Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, was also quoted on the importance of ventilation.

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June 23: Public-Health Messaging in a Pandemic (Harvard Magazine)

Experts at a June 21 panel spoke about a range of pandemic-related issues—including a disconnect between the public perception of what occurred over the past two years and what actually occurred. William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology, noted that headlines highlighting “death tolls” may have made people think that public health measures were ineffective—but that was not the case. “It can feel as if everything is hopeless, that people stayed home and people got all these shots, and still, over a million Americans died,” he said. “Let me be blunt: it could easily be far, far more.”

June 22: Covid Vaccines Slowly Roll Out for Children Under 5 (New York Times)

COVID vaccines are now available for children under age 5, but polling suggests that most parents of younger children are hesitant about getting access to the shots quickly. Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program, said that even if uptake of the vaccines is limited, he thinks that most restrictions on young children should be lifted, given their low risk. He recommended that child-care centers and schools protect students and staff by improving ventilation and filtration.

June 21: Ventilation is crucial, but until recently it took a backseat to other covid measures (Washington Post)

Given the fact that COVID-19 spreads though tiny aerosol droplets, improving ventilation in buildings is key to curbing transmission. “We need building engineers to sit alongside the MD’s and the epidemiologists when they do a cluster investigation and say, ‘Let’s evaluate what’s happening with ventilation and filtration,’” said Joseph Allen, associate professor of exposure assessment science and director of the Healthy Buildings program.

June 18: “We Have to Get Out of This Phase”: Ashish Jha on the Future of the Pandemic (The New Yorker)

In a wide-ranging interview, Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, adjunct professor of global health at Harvard Chan School, and the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, discussed the future of COVID, the importance of good public health communication (especially during a pandemic), the need to develop a strategy to protect immunocompromised people, the mysteries of long COVID, vaccines for young children, and the importance of supporting global vaccination programs.

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