A sign of Relief: The vaccines still protect against a spinoff of the Omicron variant BA.2
Since Omicron was first detected in November of 2021, there has been significant concern whether the available vaccines would protect us against it. Well, so far, it has!. And research has consistently shown that it has kept severe disease in the vaccinated at bay.
Research has shown that Omicron can sometimes evade protection against the vaccine, leading to many previously infected, vaccinated - and boosted people getting it. Unfortunately, the same body of research has also shown that Omicron evades some of the vaccines used in many parts of the world - particularly in poor nations – compared to the vaccines authorized in the U.S.
Luckily, recent studies from South Africa and the United Kingdom have found that overall vaccine effectiveness and, to an extent, hospitalization is significantly lower than Delta.
What about this New Omicron mutation, BA.2.
What is it? Should I be concerned?
BA.2, part of the sub lineage of the Omicron arsenal, is currently being scientifically studied. It exerts dominance over the more common Omicron strain, or BA.1.Although BA.1 continues to lead to massive spikes worldwide, in India, the Philippines, South Africa, and several countries in Europe, for example, BA.2 has proportionally increased its dominance and growth advantage over BA.1. Even though the two lineages share many mutations, their unique genetic twists are unique.
Is it Bad?
There are thus far many questions about this emerging variant as with any emerging variant: transmissibility, severity, and ability to erode the immunity built by vaccination or prior infection. Researchers believe that BA.2 may be 30% to 35% more transmissible than BA.1. But we also know that because Omicron has caused less severe disease than the previous variant.
Omicron B2, according to early data, is less pathogenic and seems to be heading in the same direction. However, Omicron B can still be significantly pathogenic in the unvaccinated, leading to severe disease and death.
Obviously, given the newness of this sub-variant, there are more questions than answers. According to the WHO: "Drivers of transmission and other properties of BA.2 are under investigation but remain unclear to date."
The U.K. Health Security Agency, an expert agency, provided much needed reassuring news on January 15th: “There does not seem to be any loss of vaccine effectiveness against BA.2 compared to BA.1.”
In other words, protection against severe disease with Omicron has broadly stood up, and booster doses have helped shore up much of the protection that was lost with the agency estimating that,
“People at least two weeks out from their booster shot, vaccine effectiveness against the symptomatic disease was 63% against BA.1, versus 70% for BA.2, suggesting that BA.2 is less of a threat to vaccine protection than Omicron BA 1”
Although it appears that in some countries, BA.2 is displacing BA.1, so far, early research has shown that the millions of vaccinated people and those who’ve now been infected with BA.1 are protected against infection from BA.2. And if B2 were to cause another surge, it could likely be broadly limited because of the high levels of population immunity
And that’s another reason to be hopeful that the end is, hopefully, near.
Dr. Edison de Mello , Founder and Chief Medical Officer of the Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine and Akasha Naturals is a Board-Certified Integrative Physician. He has been in the frontlines helping fight COVID since the beginning of the pandemic.