Should we fear the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variables?

BA.4, BA.5: In the Omicron family, these two members are suspected to contribute, with less obstructive signals, to increased pollution in several European countries, after South Africa and Portugal.

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A new summer wave of COVID-19 and its impact remains uncertain.

These new Omicron sub-variants were identified in early April by researchers in Botswana and South Africa, and likely actually appeared between mid-December and early January.

Having become the majority in South Africa, and then in Portugal, they provoked new waves of the epidemic there.

In South Africa, “where BA.4 and BA.5 were initially detected and where BA.4 is now the majority, the peak of the epidemic wave was in mid-May and its impact was very moderate. BA.5 is now the majority in Portugal, where it is increasing The infection rate, but it remains at levels lower than the previous wave,” summarized French Public Health on Friday.

Now, the beginnings of a pollution recovery are emerging and new incarnations of Omicron are being introduced elsewhere.

In Europe, BA.4 and BA.5 are quickly gaining ground in France where they should end up replacing BA.2, which has dominated since the beginning of the year, as well as in the UK and Germany. Among the specified sub-variables, BA.3 was never created.

In France, government spokeswoman Olivia Gregoire spoke of a “slight shift” in the COVID-19 pandemic after the cabinet spoke on Wednesday of “vigilance,” but “don’t worry.” until then.

The latest weekly numbers from Public Health France confirm the rebound in cases and the introduction of new subvariants.

And a number of specialists note that the relaxation of sanitary measures also contributes to the resumption of the epidemic.

Both sub-variables appear to spread faster than previous members of the Omicron lineage.

“BA.4 and BA.5 can spread as our immunity progresses, and they do so faster than BA.2 because they have the dual benefit of infection and immune escape. BA.4 et BA.5 induisent donc une vague plus tôt que BA.” 2 ne l’aurait fait», explique à l’AFP Mircea T. Sofonea, maître de conférences en épidémiologie à l’université de Montpellier, dans le sud de France.

Summer, synonymous with more outdoor activities, will it act as a brake on the possible resumption of the epidemic? “While summer can be relied upon to have a lower incidence than winter, it cannot, on its own, prevent a wave of contamination, as the example of the delta (fourth wave) in July 2021 demonstrated,” the epidemiologist upsets.

So far, there is no indication of an increased intensity of BA.4 or BA.5 compared to other Omicron lines, according to several scientists. But “it is still too early to measure it correctly,” nuance Mircea T. Sofonea.

Observations from South Africa and Portugal have, for now, led some observers to be reasonably optimistic about increased risks of hospitalizations and deaths.

Tulio de Oliveira, a virologist at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa, whose team announced the discovery of “Omicron” in the fall of 2021. “Of course, we don’t know the long-term effects…”

In Portugal, where the population is more vaccinated, but also the elderly, hospitalizations have almost risen to the level of the previous wave.

Unlike other countries, particularly in Europe, South Africa and Portugal had never before experienced a wave of BA.2.

After passing a BA.2 wave that “could provide better protection against BA.4 and BA.5,” “genetically closer” to it, Public Health France was judged in May. But this has not yet been confirmed.

Either way, the immune shield erodes over time.

“While the protection conferred by an Omicron infection or a third dose of the vaccine remains great after five months against the acute form, it is much reduced against any infection,” emphasizes the epidemiologist in Montpellier.

For the most vulnerable groups, a fourth dose of the vaccine is already recommended in many countries, without waiting for autumn.

If this is no longer mandatory, it is also recommended to wear the mask indoors in some cases by many scholars, such as ventilation.

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