When something goes from interesting to concerning, it usually gets worse. This would apply to a date, something in your fridge, and Covid-19 variants and subvariants. On May 12, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) reclassified the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants of the Covid-19 coronavirus as variants of concern (VOC), instead of being variants of interest (VOI). This shouldn’t be a cause for panic, as public health authorities will rarely say, “OK, everyone, it’s time to panic.” This is how you should flap your arms. However, as the label indicates, these new variants should indeed be cause for concern and a reminder to maintain Covid-19 precautions such as wearing face masks in indoor public spaces.
This recent upgrade of BA.4 and BA.5 has happened because these two Omicron sub-lines seem to spread easier and faster than earlier versions of the Omicron variant, especially BA.1 and BA. 2. For example, in Portugal, the percentage of BA.5 cases compared to BA.2 ones has increased at a rate of 13% every day. Portugal’s abandonment of numerous Covid-19 precautions certainly didn’t help. This rate should allow the BA.5 to move from around 37% of all Covid-19 cases in Portugal to the dominant “alpha-dog” variant in the country by May 22, 2022.
Such a surge is essentially what has already happened in South Africa. BA.4 and BA.5 were initially detected in this country in January and February 2022, respectively. Both subvariants then continued to spread, continued to spread, with BA.5 increasing at a rate of 12% from BA.2 each day. Eventually, BA.4 and BA.5 emerged as the main versions of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in South Africa. And as we have seen for much of the pandemic, what happens in South Africa rarely stays in South Africa.
As new variants continue to emerge, you might be wondering what exactly it takes to go from being a VOI to being a VOC? Well, it’s not all about this bass. On the contrary, it’s all about evidence, you know what you should have in hand before you blurt out any claims about Covid-19. According to the ECDC, a variant becomes a VOI when “evidence is available on genomic properties, epidemiological evidence or in vitro evidence that could imply a significant impact on transmissibility, severity and/or immunity, having realistically an impact on the epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA. However, the evidence is still preliminary or is associated with major uncertainty. A VOI becomes a COV when “clear evidence is available indicating a significant impact on transmissibility, severity and/or immunity likely to have an impact on the epidemiological situation in the EU/EEA”.
The addition of BA.4 and BA.5 essentially makes ECDC’s VOC list a “Party of Five”. This gruesome party includes the all-too-familiar Delta variant as well as four different Omicron sub-variants: BA.1, BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5. Right now, the ECDC VOI list is like some people’s dating calendars: completely empty.
This does not mean that the VOI list will remain empty for long. The two variants designated as “variants under watch”, Omicron BA.3 and BA.2+L452X, could still move up the VOI list. Variants under scrutiny are those for which “there are indications that they may have properties similar to those of a VOC, but the evidence is weak or has not yet been assessed by the ECDC”. A variant under surveillance must have been “present in at least one outbreak, detected in a community within the EU/EEA, or there must be evidence that there is community transmission of the variant elsewhere in the world” .
The ECDC also lists a bunch of “defused variants”. These aren’t variants that only affect those on the escalators or trying to calm a tense argument at work over whether Harry Potter should have ended up with Hermione. Rather, they are variants that meet at least one of the following three criteria: “(1) the variant is no longer circulating, (2) the variant has been circulating for a long time without any impact on the overall epidemiological situation, (3) the evidence demonstrate that the variant is not associated with any properties of concern.In other words, a defused variant is one that became the news of yesterday or perhaps even yesteryear.
Compared to BA.2, the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have several differences in their spike proteins, you know those things that stud the surface of the virus, making it look like a spiky massage ball. Think of the spike proteins as tiny virus arms and hands and the cells in your airways as hotel rooms. In order to get inside your cells to do the bad guy, so to speak, the virus first uses parts of its receptor-binding spikes to latch onto receptors on the surface of your cells, just like a person uses their hands to hold on. of the door handle of a hotel room. The BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have several new amino acids with easy-to-remember names like L452R, F486V, and R493Q swapped into the receptor-binding portions of their spike proteins.
The faster spread of BA.4 and BA.5 may be due to their ability to better evade any existing immune protection you may have against vaccination against Covid-19 or prior severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 ( SARS-CoV-2) infections. Keep in mind that the currently available Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Astra Zeneca Covid-19 vaccines tricked your cells into producing the spike proteins that were on the original version of SARS-CoV-2, the one that had triggered this entire pandemic in 2020 and not those of the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants. Also, the protection offered by your first round of vaccinations against Covid-19 may be waning. Likewise, previous infections may have prepared your immune system more for previous versions of the virus and less for versions BA.4 and BA.5.
So if you’re playing Twister without a mask with strangers thinking you’re fully protected by vaccination or “natural immunity”, stop it. Remember that relying on just one layer of protection can be like going to work wearing only a thong. As long as the pandemic lasts and the virus spreads in your community, try to maintain multiple layers of protection.
Due to the potential decline in immunity, ECDC recommends that all eligible persons receive at least a booster dose against Covid-19. They suggest that those aged 80 and over also receive a second booster dose of Covid-19 mRNA. If the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants become even more widespread, they could lower the age threshold for this recommendation to 60 years.
Despite the changes in the receptor-binding parts of the spike proteins, it is not yet entirely clear whether BA.4 and BA.5 are inherently more transmissible and contagious than BA.2. Also, so far there is no clear evidence that BA.4 and BA.5 are more likely to cause more severe Covid-19 than earlier Omicron subvariants like BA.1 and BA .2. Stay tuned as more studies are needed to learn more about BA.4 and BA.5.
Of course, the main immediate concern is BA.4 and BA. 5 is whether they will help fuel even more Covid-19 outbreaks in Europe and around the world. Warmer, more humid weather and the movement of outdoor activities could help curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus. At the same time, people abandoning Covid-19 precautions like using face masks as if they were furry boots could make everyone more vulnerable to a surge. Currently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists Omicron including B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA. 4 and BA. .5 lines, as COV. The World Health Organization (WHO), however, has not yet designated BA.4 and BA.5 as VOCs, currently listing only the Delta and Omicron B.1.1.529 variants in this category. These days, all of that could change quickly, though. While you certainly shouldn’t panic over the emergence of these new variants, it will be important for everyone to maintain Covid-19 precautions for now. However, with politicians, TV personalities and that random guy on Facebook falsely claiming the pandemic is over, a big question is whether the public will be as concerned about these new variants as they should be.