A new sub-variant of the omicron variant of the coronavirus has gained the attention from scientists around the world. It’s steadily becoming the dominant cause of COVID-19 infections in certain countries. Should you panic? Scientists say that even though the BA.2 sub-variant exists in 49 countries, including the United States, it is not yet cause for concern.
Although there has been a higher increase in cases because it is highly transmissible, the surge did come from a low number of cases. Researchers have an easier time observing these cases and how BA.2 behaves. Consider BA.2 to be a close cousin of omicron that is outcompeting it in parts of Asia and Europe. Almost 80% of all of the new COVID-19 cases in Denmark, for example, are attributed to BA.2.
What Do Experts Know About BA.2?
In addition to BA.2, there are other sub-variants under the omicron umbrella, including Ba.1.1.529 and BA.3, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). BA.2 accounts for 9% of cases in the United Kingdom and 8% in the U.S. At the moment, experts know that BA.2 is very contagious, but it doesn’t seem to produce more more severe disease. Current vaccines should provide protection against severe disease and hospitalization, but not infection from BA.2.
A U.K. health report that was released on January 27th, 2022, found that current vaccines offer the same protection against BA.2 as they do against the original omicron. The difference is that vaccines offer slightly better protection against the symptoms from BA.2 infection. The protection percentage is about 70% two weeks after receiving a booster, according to the report.
How Does BA.2 Differ From Omicron?
BA.2 differs from omicron in regards to the concentrated spike protein, the part of the virus that vaccines target. Unlike omicron, BA.2 doesn’t reveal a certain signature on lab tests, i.e. it doesn’t have s-gene target failure. That means that BA.2 looks like other SARS-CoV-2 variants on a first screen, which is why researchers call it a “stealth variant.” Some experts think that this nickname may be misleading to some. It may cause them to think that BA.2 will not show up on lab tests, but this is not the case. Both FDA-approved lab tests and at-home antigen tests should be able to detect this sub-variant, in addition to the original omicron.
Is BA.2 More Transmissible?
Early reports indicate that it is more infectious than the already contagious BA.1 variant. At this time, health officials say that BA.2 is roughly 1.5 times more transmissible than BA.1, but it doesn’t cause more severe disease. One preliminary analysis from the U.K. traced COVID-19 infections from December 27th, 2021, to January 11th, 2022. The findings suggested that BA.2 accounted for 13.4% of household transmission, compared to 10.3% from BA.1.
At this time health experts are wondering if a previous BA.1 infection protects individuals from the BA.2 sub-variant. If a prior BA.1 infection doesn’t protect against BA.2, then certain areas may see a two-humped wave of high COVID-19 cases. Unfortunately, it’s still too early to know if this will happen or not.
Where Is BA.2 Most Prominent?
COVID-19 vaccine researchers from Australia showed 10,811 BA.2 sequences detected worldwide as of January 27th, 2022. Roughly 90% of sequences, however, were from Denmark, India, and the U.K. It’s important to keep calm during this time because BA.2 doesn’t show increased severity. More research is necessary, but continue to follow local health and safety guidelines to protect yourself as much as possible.