In the U.S. there are currently four vaccines available to protect against severe COVID-19, including the Omicron BA.5 variant. Pfizer and Moderna are currently developing updated vaccines to specifically target new versions of Omicron that are predicted to be available in Fall 2022.
The Current Situation with Omicron BA.5
- Cases are soaring again, with Omicron BA.5 accounting for nearly two-thirds of infections in the U.S. This number is likely higher as most people are testing themselves with at-home kits which are not reported.
- COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled since May.
- No states have reinstated mask mandates or social distancing protocols, leaving testing and vaccination as the predominant measures in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
About Omicron BA.5
Omicron BA.5 is a subvariant of the Omicron variant and has three key mutations in its spike protein (a key characteristic of SARS-CoV-2 that allows the virus to cause infection). This mutation makes it more contagious and better at evading past immunity.
BA.5 has become the predominant strain in the US and scientists are still learning about it. The Omicron strain is relatively mild compared to the Delta strain that preceded it, causing less severe disease and death. The CDC provides weekly updates to track the variants.
Available Vaccines Protect Against the BA.5 Omicron Subvariant
There are currently four approved COVID-19 vaccines available in the US:
- Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen
All four vaccines are effective at decreasing the risk of severe illness due to COVID-19, including the BA.5 variant. As the virus continues to mutate, its variants are becoming more adept at evading past immunization. This means even if you had COVID-19, are vaccinated, and are boosted, you can still get infected.
*Novavax is the most recently approved vaccine for COVID-19 and has been authorized by the FDA on July 13, 2022 for use as a primary immunization series for adults.
New Vaccines Are On the Way
Updated Covid-19 booster shots that target the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 are expected to be approved in the Fall of 2022. However, it is not recommended to wait until these vaccines are approved to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
If you are eligible, you should get boosted now, and if you are not vaccinated yet, you should get vaccinated right away in order to best protect yourself from the current surge in cases.
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COVID-19 Booster Shot Eligibility
Most people are eligible for at least one COVID-19 booster shot. A booster shot can further enhance your protection from COVID-19 after infection or primary vaccination. A booster shot can also decrease the virus’s transmissibility (ability to infect others) which protects those around you.
Below is a breakdown of who is eligible for a booster shot according to the CDC:
- 1 Booster Shot: Everyone ages 5+ after completing their primary COVID-19 vaccinations is eligible for one booster shot.
- 2 Booster Shots: Adults ages 50+ and some people 12+ who are moderately or severely immunocompromised are eligible for 2 booster shots.
Of the four vaccines, three are available as COVID-19 booster shots. For the first booster, an mRNA vaccine is recommended (Pfizer and Moderna). It is safe to get boosted by a different brand than your initial dose or doses.
Booster Shot Eligibility for Different Age Groups by Brand
Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen
Not authorized for use as a booster at this time
Children 11 and under
Information from CDC’s Covid-19 Vaccine Booster Shot Page
BA.5 Subvariant Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
With the COVID-19 situation constantly changing, it can be difficult to keep up with new guidelines, medications, data, and strains. Below we answer some questions you may have about BA.5 and how it impacts you.
Do I still need to isolate if I have COVID-19 even though most people are not having serious infections?
Yes. If you test positive for COVID-19 (even if you are asymptomatic), you still have to isolate for at least five days. You can end isolation on day 5 if you are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of medication and other symptoms have improved. Continue to wear a mask and avoid people with weakened immune systems for the following five days.
While the Omicron variant is relatively milder than previous strains, it is more contagious and can still cause serious cases. It is important to isolate yourself if you have COVID-19 to protect those around you from getting sick, as only 66 percent of people in the US are fully vaccinated. Many people have underlying diseases or weakened immune systems that can worsen from COVID-19 infection. Preventing the spread of the virus also limits the rate at which it mutates and produces new variants.
With hospitalizations due to COVID-19 on the rise, it is necessary to isolate as it is extremely important hospitals do not reach maximum capacity as they did earlier in the pandemic. When hospital beds become filled with COVID-19 patients, patients with other life-threatening illnesses may not be able to get the care they need.
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How soon can I get reinfected with COVID-19 if I just had it?
The exact timing of reinfection is unclear and depends on the individual. Some people have reported reinfection in as early as one month. Reinfections of COVID-19 are becoming more common due to the highly contagious BA.5 and a decrease in COVID-19 protocols like masking and social distancing.
Is COVID-19 still considered a pandemic?
Yes, COVID-19 is still a pandemic. The World Health Organization says that COVID-19-related deaths rose across the world last week and there are about 1 million new cases each day. President Biden tested positive for the virus this week and other countries have put mask mandates back in place.
BA.5 causes milder cases on average compared to the Delta variant but is even more contagious. Booster shots to target BA.5 specifically are expected to become available this fall. While you can get infected with the virus despite being vaccinated, vaccinations and booster shots still offer the best protection to preventing severe illness and death from COVID-19.
All COVID-19 vaccines and the additional booster shot are completely free in the US. If you need help finding a place to get vaccinated or boosted, you can contact our team at Mira. For just $45 per month and no deductible, Mira’s care navigation team can help you find affordable healthcare services in your area. Sign up today to get started.
Erica graduated from Emory University in Atlanta with a BS in environmental science and a minor in English and is on track to graduate with her Master's in Public Health. She is passionate about health equity, women's health, and how the environment impacts public health.