With Omicron BA.5 subvariant dissemination, the White House commits to guarantee access to boosters, testing


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The White House said Tuesday it will ensure Americans continue to have easy access to COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and tests to contain the rapidly spreading Omicron BA.5 subvariant that now accounts for the majority of U.S. cases.

Health officials say there is evidence that the subvariant has a better chance of escaping immunity, including through previous infections.

BA.5 is estimated to be responsible for 65% of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States last week, said Rochelle Walensky, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

BA.5 BECOMES DOMINANT US OMICRON SUBVARIANT

The BA.5 and BA.4 sub-variants together accounted for more than 80% of circulating variants last week, with BA.4 accounting for 16%, Walensky told reporters at a White House briefing.

The seven-day average of daily hospitalizations with COVID-19 has doubled in the United States since early May, she said.

BA.5 does not appear to be associated with greater disease severity or hospitalizations compared to the most recent subvariants, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, an infectious disease expert and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden.

People wait to take tests for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pop-up test site in New York City, US, July 11, 2022.

People wait to take tests for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pop-up test site in New York City, US, July 11, 2022.
(Reuters/Brendan McDermid)

“Variations will continue to appear. The virus is circulating worldwide and in this country. We must not allow our lives to be disrupted, but we cannot deny that it is a reality that we are dealing with,” Fauci said at the same briefing.

Officials said they are prioritizing booster shots, home testing and making high-quality masks widely available and supporting people with weakened immune systems.

“We can prevent serious illness, we can keep people out of the hospital and especially out of the ICU, we can save lives and we can minimize the disruptions caused by COVID-19. Even in light of BA.5, the tools we need to stay work,” said Ashish Jha, the White House’s Covid-19 response coordinator.

“We are at a point in the pandemic where most deaths from COVID-19 are preventable,” he said.

The White House said the wide spread of BA.5 means new cases are likely to increase in the coming weeks.

FDA WANTS COVID BOOSTERS TAKING OMICRON BA.4, BA.5 SUB-VARIANTS

“Immunity declines, whether that’s immunity after infection or immunity after vaccine, although the immediate protection after infection or vaccine is generally good protection,” Fauci said. “If you were infected with BA.1 you really don’t have much good protection against BA.4/5.”

The US Food and Drug Administration has recommended that manufacturers of COVID-19 vaccines change the design of their booster shots starting in the fall to better combat the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants.

Getting a second booster shot wouldn’t make a person ineligible for a variant-specific vaccine, Jha said.

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