As omicron cases continue to decline across the region, health departments in the District, Virginia and Maryland have reported new cases of a subvariant strain of the illness, but one expert said it doesn’t appear the newest version of COVID-19 will lead to another spike in cases.
The original omicron variant, which sent case numbers soaring over the winter, is known also as the BA.1; the new subvariant is called BA.2.
“I think it’s important to note that while case numbers of BA.2 are increasing, they’re not increasing anywhere close to the way that the BA.1 cases increased,” said Dr. Andy Pekosz, professor and virologist with Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health.
He said that early observations show that the newest edition of the virus may not be as efficient when it comes to how it spreads.
Pekosz also said for people who have the original omicron variant, early results from studies appear to show that they may have “descent protection” against the new subvariant, but he cautioned that is not guaranteed. He said people who are vaccinated and boosted should also have good protection against omicron 2.0.
Some newer studies also show that a third booster may provide protection for a very long period that covers several variants, Pekosz said.
“I think the immunity from a booster shot, particularly one that’s spaced you know in that 5 to 6 months after your initial vaccination, seems to be a really strong boost that gives you not only high amounts of protection but it’s also broad protection,” Pekosz said.
Pekosz said what needs to be watched is how many people who are vaccinated or boosted have a severe case of omicron variant and wind up in the hospital.
“As long as we’re being protected against severe disease, we may not need a fourth booster at least for the short term,” Pekosz said.
Studies continue on how much natural immunity one might get from contracting and recovering from COVID-19, but he said people who have contracted coronavirus and have been immunized have strong protection.
“The best immunity that we see right now are individuals who were vaccinated, then infected,” he said.
In the D.C. region, some communities are pulling back on COVID-19 restrictions. While there is light at the end of the tunnel, Pekosz warns that communities should be careful to not roll back restrictions too soon because doing so could result in case numbers plateauing at higher levels than public health officials would like to see.
“I imagine another week or two and if these trends continue, we’ll really be settling in at a very comfortable place in terms of the manageable amount of cases and that might be a really good time to start thinking about relieving some of these public health interventions,” Pekosz said.
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