Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant seems tame for now but doctors advise caution

Written by on March 18, 2022

Omicron’s BA.2 subvariant seems tame for now but doctors advise caution

By Tyler Pratt
March 18, 2022

The BA.2 subvariant is making its way through China and Europe. (Photo | Christoph Burgstedt/Science Source /File)

COVID-19 case numbers are down and for some that means a return to pre-pandemic activities. 

But a new so-called “stealth” variant, which some also refer to as a subvariant, is causing new infections across the world and across Pennsylvania.

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The new BA.2 Omicron subvariant may be more contagious than previous strains. It is causing lockdowns in China and surges in Europe.

Dr. Jeffery Jahre, the senior vice president of Medical and Academic Affairs and section chief emeritus of Infectious Diseases at St. Luke’s University Health Network, noted the path COVID has taken in the past.  

“We do know that what has happened in Europe has often served as a precursor for what might occur in this country,’ Jahre said. “That’s what’s happened in the past, so it’s certainly possible it can happen now.” 

But with the weather getting warmer and masks optional in many places, Jahre said it does feel like a “honeymoon” period.

“Some honeymoons last longer than others and we are hoping that this honeymoon does last for a while, if not permanently” Jahre said.

Dr. Alex Benjamin, chief of  Infection Control and Hospital Epidemiology at Lehigh Valley Health Network, said now is the time to “recharge your batteries.” 

“Take the break, take advantage of what it’s giving you,” Benjamin said. “If there is another surge: we’re health care. We’re prepared. We can care for COVID patients in a snap now. We have better therapeutics than we did two years ago.”

Benjamin said while BA.2 may be more contagious, it may not get some people as sick.

“Clinically it seems to be similar to the original omicron variety, not as severe as delta and not putting more people in the hospital,” Benjamin said.

“If you have immunity by having proper vaccination or having been infected with omicron, that immunity is likely to transfer over to the BA.2 as well,” Jahre said. 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health recommends people continue to get vaccinated and get their boosters if they haven’t already. 

“The best way for people to reduce their risk and increase their protection from COVID-19 and its multiple variants, including omicron B.1.1.529 and BA.2, is to get vaccinated,”  DOH Press Secretary Mark O’Neill said. 

“The Department of Health is urging everyone to get up-to-date with their vaccine regimen, including people who have received two doses of Pfizer or Moderna or one shot of Johnson & Johnson, but have yet to get a booster shot,” O’’Neill added.

Both Lehigh Valley doctors said there is still concern for the unvaccinated, children under five and the immunocompromised.  

Both Jahre and Benjamin advised assessing the situation in your household: maybe avoid large unmasked indoor gatherings. 

If you feel sick, take a test, stay home and isolate yourself for a few days, they said. 

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