Scientists are worried about a couple new strains of SARS-CoV-2, noting that the variants appear to be able to slip past some antibodies against the virus and attack the lungs, according to a new report.
The subvariants of the now-dominant Omicron variant — dubbed BA.4 and BA.5 — “seem to partially dodge antibodies from past infection or vaccination, making them more transmissible than other forms of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” The Daily Beast reported. “There are also some suggestions that the new subvariants have evolved to target the lungs — unlike Omicron, which usually resulted in a less dangerous infection of the upper respiratory tract.”
The Omicron variant has proven more contagious than earlier strains of the virus, but symptoms are most often far less severe. Scientists are hopeful the same holds true for the new subvariants, and so far in the United Kingdom, where the variants have been found, hospitalizations and deaths are down.
“This could mean higher transmissible variants, BA.4 or 5, are in play, [and] these variants are much less severe,” Edwin Michael, an epidemiologist at the Center for Global Health Infectious Disease Research at the University of South Florida, told the Beast.
Still, the new subvariants appear able to sneak past antibodies that have been built up either via vaccines or having been infected with COVID.
“The grandchildren of the basic Omicron variant that first appeared in the fall of 2021, BA.4 and BA.5 both feature a trio of major mutations to their spike protein, the part of the virus that helps it to grab onto and infect our cells,” the Beast reported. “Eric Bortz, a University of Alaska-Anchorage virologist and public-health expert, described BA.4 and BA.5 as ‘immunologically distinct sublineages.’ In other words, they interact with our antibodies in surprising new ways.”
While COVID fatigue has certainly set in across the U.S., the World Health Organization (WHO) warned last month that the pandemic is “most certainly not over,” according to WHO head Tedros Ghebreyesus.
Although deaths from COVID have dropped precipitously, the WHO head said “we lower our guard at our peril,” according to the United Nations.
“So, is COVID-19 over? No, it’s most certainly not over. I know that’s not the message you want to hear, and it’s definitely not the message I want to deliver,” he said.
Ghebreyesus told officials gathered in Geneva for the opening of the WHO’s annual meeting that declining testing and sequencing means “we are blinding ourselves to the evolution of the virus.” In addition, he said that while billions are vaccinated against the virus, nearly one billion people in lower-income countries still are not.
While some 60% of the world’s population is vaccinated, he said, “it’s not over anywhere until it’s over everywhere.” Ghebreyesus mentioned that “Reported cases are increasing in almost 70 countries in all regions,” the U.N. reported. “And this in a world in which testing rates have plummeted,” the WHO head added.
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@example.com and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.