- Omicron BA.5 is the dominant COVID strain in the United States, accounting for over 80% of all COVID cases.
- More children are being affected by BA.5 than any other COVID variant in the past.
- Even if your child had COVID in the past, they can get infected by BA.5.
- Vaccines are available for kids ages 5 and over, but millions are not fully vaccinated yet.
- Although there is no BA.5-specific vaccine yet, White House officials emphasize that existing COVID vaccines protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. Consider getting the vaccines and boosters for which you are eligible.
The beginning of a new school year is always hectic. It’s a whirlwind of activities with lots of planning around new classes, routines, and fighting crowds for school supplies. It’s exhausting enough without the threat of COVID looming. Yet, again this year, many parents face the stress of sending kids to school amid another COVID wave.
This time around, the COVID strain in question is Omicron BA.5. This mutation of the COVID virus is one of the fastest spreading versions yet. In fact, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports that Omicron BA.5 is now the dominant strain in the United States, making up 82% of all COVID cases.
In light of this news, worried parents want to know:
- What’s the latest on BA.5?
- How does Omicron BA.5 affect children?
- Is it safe to send my kids to school?
- Is there a BA.5-specific vaccine for children?
- Why the CDC recommends not to wait for a BA.5-specific vaccine to get vaccinated and boosted.
- How to prepare for the 2022-23 school year?
- Is it safe for my child to continue playing sports during the school year?
While there’s no need to panic, it’s important to stay informed to make the right decision for you and your loved ones. So, here’s what you need to know as you head into the new school year.
What’s the latest on Omicron BA.5?
Data suggests that Omicron BA.5 causes milder symptoms than the previous Delta and variants. But, the CDC notes that the strain is also the most contagious version of COVID, and the virus is spreading fast across the United States.
Experts are concerned because BA.5 can evade our immunity. This is true even in people who are fully vaccinated. Plus, as the virus spreads and cases rise, there is a higher rate of reinfections and an increase in hospitalizations. To make matters worse, researchers from Harvard discovered that at-home rapid antigen tests are less effective at detecting the evasive BA.5 subvariant.
Recent CDC data shows good news on severe outcomes:
How does Omicron BA.5 affect children?
Unfortunately, the BA.5 variant affects children at a higher rate than previous COVID strains. But the silver lining is that, in most cases, data suggest that children experience milder symptoms than adults.
As cases continue to rise, experts caution that more children, especially those with underlying health conditions, may be at a greater risk of getting infected.
In fact, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 311,000 cases in children were reported over just the past four weeks.
Dr. Rob Rohatsch, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Solv, explains, “A common myth seems to be that children who didn’t get COVID until now are naturally protected against the virus. However, BA.5 is a different beast. This strain is very skilled at evading natural immunity, even in children. In short, even if your kids haven’t had a COVID infection in the past, they can get sick.”
If you would like to schedule a COVID vaccine or booster shot for you or a family member, Solv can help. Find a COVID vaccine or booster shot near you or talk to a healthcare provider in under 30 minutes.
Is it safe to send my kids to school?
The BA.5 wave is a terrible deja vu for parents yearning for a normal school year after the last three years. Parents want to know: is it safe to send my kids back to school?
As of August 2022now, public health officials have not made recommendations for or against scheduled school openings. There are no lockdowns or mask mandates being reported, even in states or counties with a growing number of COVID cases.
Is there a BA.5-specific vaccine for children?
There is no Omicron-specific vaccine targeting the BA.5 subvariant yet. However, COVID vaccines are available for children 6 months and older.
On June 30th, 2022, the US FDA instructed vaccine manufacturers to update all COVID vaccines to work against Omicron BA.5. However, these vaccines are expected to be delivered as boosters only later this year. It is unclear when the children’s vaccine that specifically targets BA.5 will be approved and released.
Until then, the existing COVID vaccines remain our best bet, according to the CDC. While they do not prevent a BA.5 infection from occurring, they do reduce the risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
Don’t wait for a BA.5-specific vaccine to get vaccinated and boosted. Here’s why.
White House COVID coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha does not recommend waiting to get fully vaccinated or boosted. According to Dr. Jha, “People say, ‘Well if I get a shot now, will I still be eligible for an Omicron-specific booster later in the fall or winter?’ And the answer is yes…the vaccine shot now protects you for the rest of the summer into the fall and does not preclude you from getting another booster later in the year.”
According to recommendations from health officials, like Dr. Fauci, you may also not want to wait for a BA.5-specific vaccine because this particular strain may be in our rearview mirror in a few months; another mutation may take over as the dominant version. In this case, people without protection from vaccines may be at a higher risk of severe illness.
You may wonder, “what does all this new information mean for me and my kids, specifically? If so, speaking with a medical professional may help you decide what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones. With Solv, you can schedule a video visit with an amazing US-based provider in as little as 30 minutes.
How to prepare for the 2022-23 school year?
You may plan for a regular school year with a wait-and-watch approach to COVID guidelines.
As Dr. Rohatsch notes, “BA.5 is spreading fast. If you haven’t already, you and your family can catch up on all eligible COVID vaccines and booster doses available for each age group. Also, keep an eye on COVID cases in your community. If there is a surge, there may be some disruption to your routine. ”
Here’s what you can do (based on CDC recommendations where relevant):
- Remind children of the importance of wearing masks and washing their hands.
- Make sure children know how to wear their masks properly (covering both the mouth and nose).
- Check with your child each morning for signs of illness and take their temperature if you are concerned. If your child has a temperature of 100.4 or higher, keep them home.
- Keep your child home if they show other signs of illness, such as sore throat, cough, severe headache, vomiting, stomach pain, or body aches.
- Consider keeping your child home if they have had close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID. Check with your school and ensure you understand their recommendations (if any) for testing and quarantining after possible exposure.
- Have a plan for where to get tested in case your child develops symptoms. Check with your school; many provide free COVID testing resources for their families. You can also find and book https://www.solvhealth.com/covid-testing.
- Make sure your child is up to date for any recommended vaccines, including the flu vaccine. All school-aged children should get a flu vaccine every year.
- Send your child to school with a backup mask and hand sanitizer. Consider also packing a reusable water bottle, so they don’t have to drink from shared water fountains.
- Make sure your emergency contact information at school is current.
- Vaccinate everyone in the family as soon as they are eligible. Children have a very low risk of severe illness or death from COVID, but health authorities still encourage vaccination for everyone who is eligible. Visit our COVID Vaccine Resource Center to learn about the latest vaccine updates.
- Help reduce risk for the entire family by continuing to avoid crowds and indoor spaces where you could come into contact with unvaccinated people.
Is it safe for my child to continue playing sports during the school year?
Close contact or indoor sports create an increased risk of COVID transmission according to the CDC. Dr. Rohatsch recommends keeping your community COVID case count in mind to help you decide.
Being involved in sports is very important for some students. Research shows that students who participated in sports during the 2020-2021 school year experienced fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression and higher quality of life scores.
Talk to your children about the risks and benefits of being involved in sports, and take necessary precautions to reduce the risk of infection.
Talk to your school staff and coaches to find out what other preventive measures they are taking to reduce the spread of COVID among student-athletes. In addition, discourage your children from greeting teammates with physical forms of contact such as a hug or handshake, and suggest gestures such as air high-fives or elbow bumps instead. Finally, make sure your child has their own water bottle, so they don’t have to drink from shared water sources.
The CDC recommends primary series vaccines for ages 6 months and up. Children aged 5 and over and adults are advised to take their booster dose when eligible. Stay up to date on the latest vaccine news by visiting our Vaccine Resource Center
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, (July 29, 2022)
- Fact Sheet: Biden Administration Outlines Strategy to Manage BA.5 (July 12, 2022)
- Ground Truths: The BA.5 Story by Eric Topol (June 28, 2022)
- COVID-19 variant BA.5 is dominant strain; BA.2.75 is being monitored (July 28, 2022)
- Omicron and BA.5: A Guide to What We Know (July 6, 2022)
- Limit of Detection for Rapid Antigen Testing of the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron and Delta Variants of Concern Using Live-Virus Culture (April 20, 2022)
- American Academy of Pediatrics: Children and COVID-19: State-Level Data Report (July 21, 2022)
- FDA Statement: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Recommends Inclusion of Omicron BA.4/5 Component for COVID-19 Vaccine Booster Doses (June 30, 2022)
- Dr. Jha warns of BA.5 infection risk: people should make sure they are boosted (July 18, 2022)
- CDC: Stay Up to Date with Your COVID-19 Vaccines (July 19, 2022)
- High School Sports During the COVID-19 Pandemic: The Effect of Sport Participation on the Health of Adolescents (2022)
- CDC: Science Brief: Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in K-12 Schools and Early Care and Education Programs – Updated