What is BA.4.6? The CDC is tracking a new COVID ‘variant of concern’ that’s overtaking earlier Omicron strains in at least 4 U.S. states

New lines of Omicron-COVID variant, such as BA.4 and BA.5, are helping to spark a wave of reinfections as people who previously contracted COVID-19 contract COVID again.
Now the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is pursuing a new "flavor of concern": BA.4.6. This week, the CDC added the BA.4 spinoff to its weekly tracking of COVID cases, with the agency's chief data officer tweeting that the new subvariant has actually been "circulating around" in the US for several weeks. The CDC designates strains as "variants of concern" if they exhibit greater transmissibility, reduced treatment efficacy, increased severity, or reduced neutralization by antibodies.
According to the CDC, BA.4.6 accounted for 4.1% of COVID cases in the week ended July 30. The new variant is more common in the region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, where it accounts for 10.7% of local cases. BA.4.6 rates are also above the national average in the Mid-Atlantic region and the South.
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The new strain has also been spotted in 43 other countries, according to breakout.info, a community repository of COVID information.
BA.5, which one epidemiologist called "the worst version of the virus we've seen" due to its increased transmissibility and ability to evade existing immunity, is still dominant in the US, making 85.5 in July % of all COVID cases out of 30. BA.4 and BA.5 are responsible for a global surge in COVID cases, including in places that had contained the virus until the current wave, such as the Chinese city of Macau.
There is currently not much data on whether BA.4.6 is better than BA.4 or BA.5 for bypassing immunity. dr Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, tweeted Tuesday that the BA.4.6 mutation "does not appear to affect [compared to] BA.4/5," with only a handful of new mutations compared to the earlier subvariants.
Omicron-specific vaccines
While BA.4.6 isn't significantly worse than existing strains, the speed at which new worrisome variants are emerging is alarming public health officials, who are planning new vaccine boosters for this fall.
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On Friday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said it will seek to approve boosters targeting the BA.5 variant directly this fall, rather than considering more Americans for a second booster based on the original 2020 COVID strain. Currently, only Americans over the age of 50 are eligible for a second refresher.
But new variants could make still-development boosters less effective when they're finally ready. dr Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical adviser, said the new boosters are trying to hit a "moving target" when it comes to determining which variants to target.
The White House is now pushing for universal coronavirus vaccines that can target multiple variants at once. "These are vaccines that are going to be far more durable, that are going to provide far longer-lasting protection regardless of what the virus does or how it evolves," Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, told Stat News from a July 25 summit on COVID vaccines.
But even with new vaccines on the way, experts say Americans who might be eligible for another booster should get one now, rather than waiting for a tailored shot in the fall. A study published on Tuesday found that a second booster shot reduced the rate of breakthrough infections by 65% ​​among Israeli healthcare workers.
This story was originally published on Fortune.com

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