New COVID-19 Omicron Variant Challenges Vaccines, Prior Infections

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There is another COVID-19 omicron subvariant making the rounds, and health experts say it is more problematic because it can evade immunity from vaccines and prior infections.

“We now know that this new variant makes up more than half the cases in the United States,” said Dr. Scott Roberts, the Associate Medical Director for Infection Prevention at Yale New Haven Hospital. “And because of that, we're seeing increased caseloads really all around.”

The new variant is Omicron subvariant BA 5, and it is dominating the summer. This time of year, we typically see lower case rates. Last year on July 4 there were 22 cases. This year there were 928, and the state’s seven-day rolling average for the week was up to 10.64-percent.

“Concerningly, we're seeing this, not only with those who had previously gotten vaccination, but also those who have previously been infected. We're seeing them now get reinfected with this new variant,” Roberts said.

Part of the problem is vaccines may have worn off to the point that the body can’t fight off the new strain, so Dr. Saad Omer says everyone should make sure they’re up to date.

“Get your booster ASAP, and be mentally prepared that there may be a variant-specific booster in fall and winter,” said Omer, the Director of the Yale Institute of Global Health.

He adds that there was a point in time when global vaccination could have reduced the likelihood of COVID variants.

He now expects the virus to settle down in a few years to become endemic.

“What becoming endemic means is that it will continue to cause substantial mortality, unfortunately, but also infection. But not at the levels as we were seeing in these seasons,” Omer said.

Dr. Mehul Dalal is the Community Services Administrator for New Haven. He says an endemic also means there’s some predictability in COVID waves as with the flu, and there isn’t much right now.  

He says officials are watching the numbers, and says the total positive cases may be higher than 10 percent because people are testing at home and not reporting the results to the state.

He adds the best defense right now is vaccination.

“If it won’t stop people from spreading it, it will definitely stop people from getting severe illness, requiring them to go to the hospital and even dying from the disease,” Dalal said. “So vaccinations are still really that first and best line of defense.”

State vaccination data shows 2.7 million people are fully vaccinated and 1.5 million have at least one booster shot.

But just 48 percent of children ages 5 to 9 have received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine.

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