New covid variant BA.2 is 1.5 times more contagious than the previous omicron variant and is already circulating in almost half of U.S. states, according to health experts.
BA.2, an omicron subvariant, is more transmissible than the original omicron strain, according to Danish scientists. Nearly half of U.S. states have confirmed the presence of BA.2. It represents 8 percent of cases in the U.S., 82 percent of cases in Denmark and 9 percent in the U.K., Reuters reported.
Most omicron cases have been caused by one of the variants known to scientists as BA.1. The newer subvariant, BA.2 has 32 of the same mutations as BA.1, but it also has 28 different ones, New Scientist reported.
Although BA.2 has increased in proportion to the original omicron strain in some countries, it is currently circulating at a low level in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The BA.2 variant has five unique mutations on a key part of the spike protein the virus uses to attach to human cells and invade them, said Troels Lillebaek, chairman of Denmark’s committee that conducts surveillance of covid variants, in a CNBC interview. Such mutations are often associated with higher transmissibility.
Still, scientists say BA.2 doesn’t appear to reduce the effectiveness of vaccines any more than the original omicron. A booster dose was 70 percent effective at preventing symptomatic illness from BA.2 two weeks after receiving the shot, compared with 63 percent effectiveness for the original omicron strain, CNBC reported.
“Antibodies elicited by BA.1 will still probably react reasonably well against BA.2, certainly much better than delta antibodies,” said Jesse Bloom at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington, in a New Scientist report.
“Several #BA2 Omicron subvariant cases found in Washington state— it’s definitely everywhere now,” tweeted Epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington, DC.
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Despite its rapid transmission, the World Health Organization has not labeled BA.2 a variant of concern.
Earlier this month, WHO did warn that omicron is life-threatening for the unvaccinated, the elderly, and people with underlying conditions.
“Omicron still represents a massive threat to their life and a massive threat to their health,” WHO Director Dr. Mike Ryan said about the unvaccinated during a Q&A live-streamed on Tuesday, Jan. 11 on the organization’s social media channels.
“People should really look at this in terms of really seriously considering getting out there and getting vaccinated,” Ryan continued.
Photo: In this March 29, 2021, file photo, people wearing face masks as a precaution against the coronavirus wait in line to receive COVID-19 vaccines at a site in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)