Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 cause increasing number of COVID-19 cases

The number of COVID-19 cases has been rising in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and we are seeing an increase in the newer Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, which show a greater ability to evade some of the protections afforded by vaccines and past infections, according a preprint of Columbia University research posted online last week.

Vaccines still offer the best protection against BA.4 and BA.5. The CDC says that people who are unvaccinated are five times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19, and 17 times more likely to die from COVID-19. Early research on the new subvariants, published in April found “antibodies produced by the 15 individuals who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 were more effective than those from people who had recovered from natural infection alone,” notes.

BA.4 and BA.5 were originally identified in South Africa and arrived in the United States around late March, according to the gene sequence sharing site GISAID. While the new subvariants do not show increased severity from previous Omicron variants, they could lead to increased infections and hospitalizations in the coming months, according to research from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

According to the most recent data from the CDC and the genomics firm Helix, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants accounted for an estimated 6% to 7% of new infections in the United States in late May. “It’s a serious threat,” Dr. David Ho, a professor of microbiology and immunology who worked on the Columbia University research, said, according to CNN. “Only a month ago, it was .02%.”

Continuing efforts

The Advisory Committee of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is set to meet today, to review the Emergency Authorization Request of Novavax for their COVID-19 vaccine, which could be used as a booster as well as an alternative for those who do not want to take mRNA vaccinations. The FDA is also set to meet the following week to discuss Pfizer-BioNTech authorization for the youngest children Axios says.

The FDA gave emergency use approval for COVID-19 boosters for children aged 5-11 last month.

The White House is pressing Congress to give $22.5 billion in supplemental requests for the battle against COVID-19, warning last month that it would cause “a lot of unnecessary loss of life” if the approval were not given.

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