With the omicron subvariant BA.5 leading a new surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations, health officials are strongly urging people to get booster doses and take other measures to protect themselves from the virus.
According to CDC data, BA.5 is now the dominant subvariant in the United States, accounting for more than 60% of all new Covid-19 cases. Many health experts have voiced concern about the subvariant's increased contagiousness and ability to evade both vaccine and natural immunity.
"The key feature of BA.5, that we know about, is its immune evasiveness — you can be fully vaccinated and boosted and still have a risk of a breakthrough infection," said Ashish Jha, the White House Covid-19 response coordinator. "You can be previously infected — even as recent as the last couple of months — and have a very high rate of reinfection."
The current daily number of reported Covid-19 cases in the United States remains around 100,000, but many experts say the number is likely higher since the reported number of cases does not account for at-home tests. Notably, federal data shows that Covid-19 hospitalizations have doubled since early May, increasing 17% in the last two weeks alone. ICU admissions with Covid-19 have also increased 21% over the last two weeks, reaching more than 4,200.
"We're in a surge," said Eric Topol, a cardiologist and the director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. "It won't be as bad as what we went through in January [during the first omicron surge]. But it isn't good. And we basically have let our guard down."
To combat BA.5, federal health officials are strongly urging people, especially those who are age 50 or older and have an increased risk for severe illness, to get a Covid-19 booster dose.
Currently, people ages five and older are eligible for a booster dose five months after their initial vaccine series. According to CDC, only around half of U.S. adults have received a booster shot, and only 28% of those ages 50 and older have received a second booster dose as recommended.
"If you've not gotten a vaccine shot this year, go get one now," Jha said. "It could save your life." He also noted that getting a booster shot now will not prevent individuals from getting another dose in the fall when variant-specific boosters are expected to be available.
So far, only individuals ages 50 and older are eligible for a second booster, but health officials are considering opening eligibility to all adults as immunity continues to wane, the Washington Post reports. Both FDA and CDC will have to authorize this decision before doses become more widely available.
"I know that the FDA is considering this and looking at it," Jha said. "And I know CDC scientists are thinking about this and looking at the data as well."
Aside from boosters, health officials have also encouraged people to use antiviral treatments, test themselves regularly, and wear masks in crowded indoor spaces to protect themselves from the coronavirus.
"If we do the things that we know, that we have learned over the last two years, we can get through whatever Mother Nature throws at us in the next four, six, eight weeks ahead," Jha said. "And also whatever Mother Nature throws at us this fall and winter. Even in the face of BA.5, the tools we have continue to work." (Sullivan, The Hill, 7/13; Sun, Washington Post, 7/12; Stolberg, New York Times, 7/12)
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