Local Expert Breaks Down BA.4 And BA.5 COVID Variants

By: Ana Altchek, Follow South Jersey Contributing Writer

SOUTH JERSEY – Just as the country began to resume to normal after the Omicron surge over the winter and restrictions began to lift in late spring, the newest subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, have dominated COVID infections worldwide. 

Currently New Jersey stands at a 7-day average of 3,196 cases per day. This is 16% lower than the average number of case numbers per day two weeks ago. With that said, death rates have increased by 36% in that time span. 

According to Dr. Todd Levin, Infectious Disease Specialist at Jefferson Health, these variants are particularly transmissible. Even though Omicron broke barriers in terms of its spread, BA.4 and BA.5 are more transmissible than any prior variant. They currently make up 80-85% of COVID infections.

“What’s good though is it doesn’t cause more severe disease,” Levin says. “More people are getting COVID but they’re not getting more sick.”

Levin notes that the symptoms that come with BA.4 and BA.5 are practically identical to the previous Omicron variants. While the new wave of subvariants differs from any pre-Delta variant, all of the Omicron variants thus far commonly share symptoms of a headache, sore throat, runny nose, and sneezing. Patients also tend to get a cough with BA.4 and BA.5, but not more severe or commonly than previous Omicron variants. 

Even though the symptoms are relatively the same and the virus remains mild for most infected patients, more people are getting hospitalized because of the increased number of infections. Levin notes that he has personally witnessed the number of Jefferson health hospitalizations increase with the new wave. 

In terms of prevention, Levin says that the vaccines are still effective at preventing severe illness as well as hospitalizations and death. With that said, the vaccines seem to be less effective with the current BA.4 and BA.5 variant. 

“The best way to protect yourself is still to be fully vaccinated and boosted,” Levin says.

Currently, vaccine makers are working on BA.4 and BA.5 specific boosters. However, Levin says that if someone qualifies for a booster shot now, it’s still worth getting it before the next version comes out to ensure highest protection possible. This is especially true for immunocompromised people. Levin also says that even if someone gets a booster shot this month, it’s still likely that they’ll be able to qualify for variant specific boosters next month. 

New Jersey currently has a vaccination rate of 76.8%, which is nearly 10% higher than the United States average. For more information on vaccination sites, please visit https://covid19.nj.gov/pages/vaccine. Also, continue to FollowSouthJersey to receive the latest information on COVID updates and happenings in the local area. 

Follow South Jersey provides local journalism which highlights our diverse communities; fosters transparency through robust, localized, and vital reporting that holds leaders and institutions accountable; addresses critical information needs; supports people in navigating civic life; and equips people with the information necessary to partake in effective community engagement. If there is a story or event you think we should cover, please send your tips to news@followsouthjersey.com with “NEWS” in the subject line.