- Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants are the fastest-spreading COVID variants yet and are the dominant strains in the US
- You can get infected with BA.4 and BA.5 even if you are vaccinated and boosted and if you’ve had a prior COVID infection (Omicron BA.2 included)
- Although there are more breakthrough infections, COVID vaccines and boosters offer significant protection against severe disease
- New Moderna booster may protect against BA.4 and BA.5
Another day, another COVID-19 variant in the news — at least that’s what it feels like these days. This time around, there are two variants of concern in the spotlight: Omicron BA.4 and BA.5. Together, both sub-variants are now the dominant strains of coronavirus in the United States, according to CDC data. Experts are monitoring the two variants after a surge in cases and hospitalizations in South Africa, Europe, and the UK.
It can be exhausting to keep up with new variants as we attempt to return to our pre-pandemic lives. But a virus does what a virus does — it mutates to evade our immune responses. So, staying informed is important to protect yourself and your loved ones.
So, here are more details on what we know about BA.4 and BA.5.
How fast do BA.4 and BA.5 spread?
BA.4 and BA.5 seem to spread faster than all other COVID counterparts, including their immediate predecessor, Omicron BA.2. CDC data shows that BA.4 and BA.5 are now the dominant strains in the US, accounting for 52% of new COVID infections.
Why the surge in BA.4 and BA.5 cases?
The European Centre for Disease Prevention Control (ECDC) estimates that BA.4 and BA.5 spread more rapidly than previous variants because they circumvent natural immunity from prior infections and protection from vaccines. In a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), Harvard researchers agree. Says Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Solv, “It looks like BA.4 and BA.5 infect even people who were immune to all other COVID variants. It seems to be one reason for the surge in cases around the globe.”
According to the ECDC, preliminary lab data shows that mutations in Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 make them quite different from the original COVID-19 virus and even the recent Omicron sub-variants BA.1 and BA.2. This may be why vaccinations developed with earlier COVID versions in mind may not be as effective.
What are the symptoms of Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 infections? How serious are they?
On the plus side, Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 infections do not seem to be more severe than other Omicron variants. However, as the ECDC notes, “an increase in COVID-19 cases overall can result in an increase in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths.”
Dr. Rohatsch adds, “While it is a relief to see that BA.4 and BA.5 are not causing more severe infections, it is important not to dismiss the new strains altogether. Since they seem to circumvent our immunity, the chances of re-infections are more. And the risk of reinfection is higher when antibody immunity wanes.”
Apart from the unpleasantness of being sick, there is the risk of developing long Covid, even for vaccinated individuals. A CDC study of millions of cases shows that 1 in 4 adults over 65 had at least one symptom of long Covid even a year after the initial Covid infection. The number is 1 in 5 for adults under 65. Long Covid symptoms include pulmonary embolism, respiratory issues, muscle pain, and more.
You may be wondering what all this information means for you, specifically. If so, consider speaking with a medical professional to help you decide what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. With Solv, you can video chat with an amazing US-based provider in as little as 15 minutes.
Do existing vaccines and boosters protect against Omicron BA.4 and BA.5?
The real answer is that current COVID vaccines and boosters are not as effective against BA.4 and BA.5 as they were against previous variants. But experts believe that vaccines do offer protection against severe disease.
Dr. Rohatsch explains, “The bottom line is that it’s best to keep up with your vaccination schedules and stay informed about developments in vaccine research.”
What about children and their immunity against BA.4 and BA.5?
Parents want to know: do vaccines for children aged 6 months and up work against BA.4 and BA.5? Since the Omicron variants are relatively new, only time will tell. Pfizer’s data was collected before Omicron hit. Moderna’s vaccine trial occurred when Omicron was dominant, but it’s not clear how well the vaccine protects against the new strains.
Remember, being fully vaccinated and boosted offers protection against severe disease. To learn more, consider talking to a pediatrician or a family physician about the vaccines approved for kids.
Solv can help you schedule a same-day appointment with a provider near you.
Is there a vaccine that works against BA.4 and BA.5?
In the cat-and-mouse game of COVID virus versus vaccines, there may soon be hope. As the COVID virus mutates aggressively to survive, new vaccines are being developed to help keep up - for example, the Moderna bivalent booster.
On June 8th, 2022, Moderna said that their booster shot was designed to fight the Omicron variant along with the original Coronavirus. Their latest clinical trial (not peer-reviewed data) showed that people who received the Moderna bivalent vaccine developed antibodies five times higher than people who were previously vaccinated and infected but did not receive the shot. However, while the antibody response to the original Omicron variant was strong, the response to BA.4 and BA.5 was weaker. Moderna hopes to have the booster approved by Fall 2022.
Since BA.4 and BA.5 are about to become the dominant strains in the US, there is new information being released every day. If you would like to talk to a healthcare professional about your specific medical history, Solv can help you see a doctor near you in less than a day.
Apart from vaccinations, we can help our natural immunity by staying on top of our health. This includes regular annual wellness visits, preventive screenings, exercise, and nutrition.
The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Solv Health and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Solv Health only to confirm educational value and reader interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with your healthcare provider.
Frequently asked questions
What are the COVID-19 variants BA.4 and BA.5?BA.4 and BA.5 are sub-variants of the Omicron strain of COVID-19. They are currently the dominant strains of coronavirus in the United States and are being closely monitored due to a surge in cases and hospitalizations in South Africa, Europe, and the UK.
How do BA.4 and BA.5 spread compared to other COVID-19 variants?According to CDC data, BA.4 and BA.5 seem to spread faster than all other COVID counterparts, including their immediate predecessor, Omicron BA.2. They account for 52% of new COVID infections in the US.
Why are there surges in BA.4 and BA.5 cases?BA.4 and BA.5 are believed to spread more rapidly than previous variants because they can circumvent natural immunity from prior infections and protection from vaccines. This ability to infect even those who were immune to all other COVID variants is thought to be one reason for the surge in cases around the globe.
What are the symptoms of BA.4 and BA.5 infections and how severe are they?While BA.4 and BA.5 infections do not seem to be more severe than other Omicron variants, an increase in COVID-19 cases overall can result in an increase in hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and deaths. Additionally, there is a risk of developing long Covid, even for vaccinated individuals.
Do current vaccines and boosters offer protection against BA.4 and BA.5?Current COVID vaccines and boosters are not as effective against BA.4 and BA.5 as they were against previous variants. However, experts believe that vaccines do offer protection against severe disease.
How effective are vaccines for children against BA.4 and BA.5?It's not yet clear how well vaccines for children aged 6 months and up work against BA.4 and BA.5. Since the Omicron variants are relatively new, more data is needed to determine their effectiveness.
Is there a vaccine that works against BA.4 and BA.5?New vaccines are being developed to keep up with the mutating COVID virus. For example, Moderna's bivalent booster was designed to fight the Omicron variant along with the original Coronavirus. However, while the antibody response to the original Omicron variant was strong, the response to BA.4 and BA.5 was weaker.
What can individuals do to protect themselves from BA.4 and BA.5?Apart from getting vaccinated and boosted, individuals can help their natural immunity by staying on top of their health. This includes regular annual wellness visits, preventive screenings, exercise, and nutrition. It's also important to stay informed about developments in vaccine research.
Solv has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
- CDC COVID Data Tracker (June 25, 2022)
- Implications of the emergence and spread of the SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern BA.4 and BA.5 for the EU/EEA (June 13, 2022)
- Correspondence: Neutralization Escape by SARS-CoV-2 Omicron Subvariants BA.2.12.1, BA.4, and BA.5 (June 22, 2022)
- CDC: Post–COVID Conditions Among Adult COVID-19 Survivors Aged 18–64 and ≥65 Years — United States, March 2020–November 2021 (May 27, 2022)
- Moderna Announces Omicron-Containing Bivalent Booster Candidate mRNA-1273.214 Demonstrates Superior Antibody Response Against Omicron (June 8, 2022)