The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking yet another Omicron spinoff – the BA.4.6 variant of concern (VOC).
In a rapid burst, it accounted for 4.8% of US infections in the week ending August 6th – with that figure climbing daily.
The question on everyone’s minds is: Will BA.4.6 become as prevalent as the BA.5 variant?
Nothing is certain at the moment. BA.5 comprised 87.1% of infections in the week ending August 6th and the BA.4.6 variant has been ‘circulating for weeks’.
“We’ve still seen a rapid increase in the number of cases between BA.4 and BA.5 in the number of samples we can sequence,” said Dr. Glen Bailey, professor and scientist specializing in analyzing biological data at the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).
What you should know about the BA.4.6 variant of concern
“BA.4.6 is another mutation of the BA.4 variant,” said Dr. Bailey. It’s still hard to tell whether this variant will stick around or just be another variant.
“As of now, BA.4.6 does not appear to be as concerning as the BA.4 and BA.5 variant,” said Dr. Eric Topol, founder, and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in a tweet regarding the spike in protein levels of BA.4.6 compared to BA.5.
With early reports showing the BA.4.6 variant of concern as a non-threat to its predecessors, it still has health experts worried.
The pace at which these variants are mutating is alarming; especially considering that 67% of the total US population are fully vaccinated – against the ‘original’ COVID-19 strain.
Where has the BA.4.6 variant been detected?
Reports show that the new subvariant is gaining ground in four states – Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska. It makes up 10.7% of local cases and has also been increasing in the mid-Atlantic region and South.
Moreover, outbreak.info, a website that monitors COVID-19 data, shows that the BA.4.6 variant of concern now exists in 47 countries (at time of publication).
Are vaccines effective against the BA.4.6 variant of concern?
The CDC reports that all approved COVID-19 vaccines have reduced the risk of severe illness and death.
The CDC also stated:
“In addition to data from clinical trials, evidence from real-world vaccine effectiveness studies show that COVID-19 vaccines help protect against COVID-19 infections, with or without symptoms (asymptomatic infections).”
Nonetheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hopes to release BA.5 specific COVID-19 boosters by fall.
“It’s difficult to predict how the COVID-19 virus will mutate,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to the President of the United States, told The Hill.
“The U.S. is currently in BA.5 mode. There’s always the possibility that you’re going to have the evolution of another variant. If that occurs, hopefully, it will vary from BA.5 only slightly in the sense of being a sub-sub-lineage of it and not something entirely different.”
Dr. Ashish Jha, White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told Stat News that they’re also pushing for universal COVID-19 vaccines:
“These are vaccines that are going to be far more durable, providing better protection no matter how the virus evolves.”
* Pfizer and Moderna are the first two vaccine brands to announce they will be releasing universal COVID-19 vaccines.
Why you should still get a COVID-19 booster shot
Health experts and professionals still urge everyone eligible to get a booster shot instead of waiting until the fall. Vaccine-induced immunity wanes over time. The longer you wait, the more susceptible you’ll be to catching COVID-19 again.
In a study published in JAMA, breakthrough infections were 13% lower among people with four COVID-19 shots than those with three.
What are the symptoms of the BA.4.6 variant of concern?
There is no information available yet on whether the new variant of concern, BA.4.6, has different symptoms from BA.4 and BA.5.
If you’re feeling any of the symptoms shown below, there’s a possibility that you may be infected with one of the variants:
- Night sweats
- Sore throat
- Loss of taste and smell
- Runny nose
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
* Symptoms start to show 2–14 days following exposure to the virus.
While another COVID-19 variant of concern, BA.4.6. has been identified, now is not the time to lose hope. Scientists are working hard to find solutions to the global health crisis. Health experts are conducting studies all the time to make sense of the statistics.
As we wait for more information, we can help stop the spread by following health and safety protocols such as:
- Keeping your vaccination and booster shots up to date
- Wearing a well-fitted mask in indoor and outdoor public places
- Avoiding crowded areas with limited ventilation and airflow
- Frequently sanitizing high touch surfaces
- Getting tested for COVID-19 whenever you experience any of its symptoms
- Isolating yourself from others as you wait for the results of your test
By following these preventive steps, you can curb the spread of COVID-19. For the most accurate results of your COVID-19 test, always request for either an at-home PCR testing kit or a FREE in-person lab test.