Cases of COVID-19 are once again surging in the U.S., and the BA.5 omicron variant is fueling this latest wave, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Gregory Poland, head of Mayo Clinic's Vaccine Research Group, says the BA.5 variant is hypercontagious and is contributing to increases in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. A new study published in Nature found the variant was four times more resistant to messenger RNA vaccines than earlier strains of omicron. The Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines are messenger RNA vaccines.
Watch: Dr. Poland discusses the BA.5 variant.
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"Right now, we don't have any evidence that it leads to a higher death rate. So that's good," says Dr. Poland. "Nonetheless, among the unvaccinated with this variant, they're about fivefold more likely to get infected than people who have been vaccinated and boosted, about 7½ times more likely to be hospitalized, and about 14 to 15 times more likely to die if they get infected."
Dr. Poland says the BA.5 variant essentially represents the evolution of this virus to be more contagious and evade the immune protection that people had from infection, vaccination or both.
"Let me make a clear, clear point here that's a little tough to hear: Whether you've been vaccinated, whether you've been previously infected, whether you've been previously infected and vaccinated, you have very little protection against BA.5 in terms of getting infected or having mild to moderate infection. You have good protection against dying, being hospitalized or ending up on a ventilator."
Being up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations is the best thing people can do to protect themselves from not only this variant, but also others to come. Dr. Poland also recommends wearing a KN-94 or N95 mask when indoors and in crowded areas outdoors.
You can hear more on the BA.5 omicron variant, the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, and other topics on tomorrow's episode of the "Mayo Clinic Q&A" podcast.
For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.
Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date.