Infectious disease expert weighs in on ‘stealthier’ omicron variant BA.2

Scientists and health officials around the world are keeping their eyes on a descendant of the omicron variant that has been found in countries, including the United States.

This version of the coronavirus, which scientists call BA.2, is widely considered stealthier than the original version of omicron because particular genetic traits make it somewhat harder to detect.

“In some nations like Denmark, India, the Phillippines, South Africa, it’s become the predominant variant,” explained Dr. Shalika Katugaha, an infectious disease specialist for Baptist Health.

Shalika said as contagious as Omicron is, the new variant could be even more contagious.

“In one of the studies, it was 1.5 times more transmissible. There is early evidence that it may be able to avoid, evade vaccines more so than BA.1, more so than our traditional omicron variant,” Shalika said.

The most recent data shows 96% of the COVID cases in the U.S. are Omicron, or the BA.1 variant, and only 4% are the BA.2 variant.

About half of eligible Americans have received booster shots, there have been nearly 80 million confirmed infections overall and many more infections have never been reported. One influential model uses those factors and others to estimate that 73% of Americans are, for now, immune to omicron, the dominant variant, and that could rise to 80% by mid-March.

Katugaha stresses that vaccines and boosters are still important.

“There’s still 20% in this country who are not protected. That’s millions. A substantial amount in this country,” Katugaha said. “So, absolutely, you need to get the vaccine and be up to date on your booster.”