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New Omicron COVID subvariant being closely watched

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Posted: Tuesday, February 8, 2022. 11:27 pm CST.

Pic courtesy: CI Photos/Shutterstock

By Aaron Humes: The BBC reports that a subvariant of the highly transmissible Omicron variant of SARS-cov-2 coronavirus is catching attention.

The BA.2 sub-variant appears to be more transmissible than previous variants but no data yet suggests that it is more or less severe. However, more countries, particularly in Asia and Europe, are reporting an increase in cases driven by BA.2.

As viruses mutate into new variants, they sometimes split or branch off into sub-lineages. The Delta variant, for example, comprises 200 different sub-variants. The same happened with Omicron, which includes the lineages BA.1, BA.2, BA.3 and B.1.1.529. The BA.1 lineage currently accounts for nearly all cases at present.

The BA.2 lineage was first detected in the Philippines in November and is active in 57 countries, growing particularly sharply in places like the Netherlands, India, Germany and England.

Early studies in Denmark and the United Kingdom found higher rates of transmission and the former had evidence suggesting that the BA.2 sub-variant is better able to evade vaccines.

However, vaccinated people are still less likely to get infected than unvaccinated individuals, and they are also less likely to pass it on. The preliminary assessment found no evidence that vaccines would be any less effective against symptomatic disease for either sub-variant.

And even if it does become the dominant version of Omicron, it may not actually alter the trajectory of the pandemic in countries that have seen a big wave of BA.1. That’s because there could be cross-immunity – an infection with BA.1 could offer some protection against BA.2.

Authorities maintain vaccination and observance of protocol will help stop the spread and so this sub-variant is right now simply one to watch as opposed to a growing concern.

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