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Why the new BA.5 COVID variant is the most dangerous yet

Why the new BA.5 COVID variant is the most dangerous yet
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The last subvariant of new coronavirus becoming dominant in Europe, the US and elsewhere is also, in many ways, the worst yet.

The BA.5 subvariant of the basic Omicron variant appears to be more contagious than any previous form of the virus. Apparently, it’s also better at dodging our antibodies, which means it’s more likely to lead to recurring and recurring infections.

Vaccines and boosters They are still the best defense. There are even Omicron-specific booster shots in development that, in the coming months, could make the best vaccines more effective against BA.5 and its genetic cousins.

Still, BA.5’s continuing challenge across half the planet is a stark reminder that the COVID pandemic is not over. “We’re not done yet, by no means,” said Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. wrote in his Substack.

High levels of at least partial immunity from past vaccinations and infections continue to prevent the worst outcomes: mass hospitalization and death. But globally, the numbers of raw cases are emergingwith serious implications for potentially millions of people facing an increased risk of long-term disease.

Equally worrying, the latest wave of infections is giving the coronavirus the time and space it needs to mutate into even more dangerous variants and subvariants. “Variant development is now a freight train,” Irwin Redlener, founding director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness, told The Daily Beast.

In other words, unstoppable.

BA.5 first appeared in viral samples in South Africa in February. In May, it was dominant in Europe and Israel, displacing earlier forms of the basic Omicron variant while driving a surge in daily COVID cases worldwide from around 477,000 per day in early June to 820,000. per day this week.

In late June, BA.5 became dominant in the United States. Cases have not yet increased: the daily average has hovered around 100,000 since May. But that could change in the coming weeks, as BA.5 continues to outperform less transmissible sub-variants.

Topol offered a concise explanation of BA.5’s ancestry. Where the mutations that produced many earlier variants primarily affected the spike protein, the part of the virus that helps it latch onto and infect our cells, BA.5 has mutations. via its structure “BA.5 is quite distinct and very much in shape, representing marked differences from all previous variants,” Topol wrote.

Widespread mutations of BA.5 made the subvariant less recognizable to all those antibodies we’ve accumulated from past vaccinations, boosters, and infections. BA.5 has been able to bypass our immune system, ninja-style, contributing to the increasing rate of breakthrough cases and reinfections.

This comes as no surprise to epidemiologists who have warned for many months that persistently high case rates, which they largely attribute in part to a stubborn anti-vaccine minority in many countries, would facilitate increasingly infectious and elusive variants and sub-variants. The more infections, the more chances of significant mutations.

A young child receives a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at Temple Beth Shalom in Needham, Massachusetts, on June 21, 2022.

Joseph Prezioso / AFP / Getty

In that sense, BA5 could be a preview of the months and years to come. A year ago we had the opportunity to block the main transmission vectors of SARS-CoV-2 through vaccinations and social distancing.

But we didn’t. Restrictions on businesses, schools, and crowds have become politically toxic around the world. Vaccination rates remained stubbornly low, even in many countries with easy access to injections. In the US, for example, the percentage of fully vaccinated has stagnated at about 67 percent.

So COVID persists, 31 months after the first case was diagnosed in Wuhan, China. The longer the virus circulates, the more variants it produces. BA.5 is the almost inevitable result of that tragic dynamic.

The situation is not entirely hopeless. Yes, BA.5 appears to reduce the efficacy of the best mRNA vaccines. Modern vaccine manufacturer published data indicating that a booster shot he is developing specifically for Omicron and its offspring works only a third against BA.5 compared to previous sub-variants.

But vaccinations, boosters, and past infections still offer significant, albeit reduced, protection against BA.5. “Even a boost of the original genome, or a recent infection, [produce] Some cross-protective antibodies to lessen the severity of a new Omicron subvariant infection,” Eric Bortz, a University of Alaska-Anchorage virologist and public health expert, told The Daily Beast.

The more extra hits you get on top of your main course, the better protected you are. Arguably the best protection results from two main injections of Pfizer’s or Moderna’s mRNA vaccines plus a couple of boosters. “Get your fucking fourth shot!” Redlener said.

The problem, in the United States, is that only people age 50 and older or with certain immune disorders qualify for a second booster. And the US Food and Drug Administration won’t say if or when it might authorize a second booster for younger people. “I have nothing to share at this time,” an FDA spokesperson told The Daily Beast when asked about boosters for those under 50.

A girl gets tested for COVID-19 at a testing station on July 7, 2022 in Shanghai, China.

Hugo Hu/Getty

It is an obvious bureaucratic error. As many as a million booster doses are about to expire in the US, all due to lack of takers. “A profound waste, which should be available to everyone under the age of 50 seeking additional protection,” Topol wrote.

To be fair, Pfizer and Moderna are working on new reinforcements that have been designed specifically for the Omicron sub-variants. On June 30, an FDA advisory board endorsed these variant-specific boosters. fda Announced It could approve them for emergency use for some Americans starting this fall.

But there is a risk that these jabs will show up too late, especially if they are highly optimized for a single recent subvariant and thus ineffective against future subvariants. “Variant searching is a flawed approach,” Topol wrote. “By the time a BA.5 vaccine booster is potentially available, who knows what the predominant strain will be?”

Fortunately, there are setbacks. Masks and voluntary social distancing, of course. Post-infection therapies, including the antiviral drug paxlovid, also help. “This is not the time to abandon nonpharmaceutical intervention,” Redlener stressed.

But the voluntary use of masks and paxlovid are Band-Aids on a festering global wound. The increase in BA.5 infections creates the conditions for the Following major subvariant — BA.6, so to speak. It could be even worse.

It seems more and more likely that COVID is with us, well, Always. “COVID is becoming like the flu,” Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Institute of Health, told The Daily Beast.

That is, endemic. An ever-present threat to public health. The big difference, of course, is that COVID it is much more dangerous than today’s flu. And he keeps mutating in ways that make it even worse.

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