As we all know, the COVID-19 pandemic is ever evolving as new variants, vaccines and knowledge of the virus continue to develop. As the world is still trying to adapt to a current variant, new ones continuously appear and require an immediate adjustment to understand its similarities and differences. The latest variant that has arisen is a subvariant of the original Omicron variant: BA.5, also known as the Ninja Covid variant. And what many experts are saying about this variant is pretty alarming: this variant is one of the worst so far. Read on to learn more about this developing story, and the current facts we know now about the Ninja Covid variant.
The BA.5 subvariant first became known in viral samples in South Africa back in February. It only took a few months before it was the dominant variant in both Europe and Israel. By June it was responsible for increasing the daily global COVID case count up to around 820,000 per week.
Many experts are saying that this variant is by far the most contagious so far. The way this variant’s contagious nature works is by dodging the preexisting antibodies our immune systems have built up. This means more breakthrough cases and repeat infections for many people.
This development of more contagious variants has been a trend with the coronavirus since the inception of the pandemic in 2020. The virus continues to mutate into more contagious and dangerous variants and subvariants, according to Irwin Redlener, the founding director of Columbia University’s National Center for Disaster Preparedness. “The development of variants now is a freight train,” Redlener says.
While the BA.5 subvariant has become dominant in the United States, there has been a hopeful outlook for the last few week in the US. Cases have not drastically increased and are still hovering around a daily average of 100,000. But many predict this could take a turn in coming week as the BA.5 subvariant continues to spread.
What makes this variant so much more contagious is its difference in structure, according to Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in California. Its spike protein is drastically different from previous variants. “BA.5 is quite distinct and very fit, representing marked difference from all prior variants,” Topol says.
BA.5 has been able to deceive and slip by immunity built up from past infections and vaccines, thus its nickname Ninja Covid. But experts say that vaccines and boosters are still the best defense against this new, deceptive variant.
This is because vaccines created to specifically target Omicron can still be effective in protecting against its subvariants, like BA.5. “Even a boost of the original genome, or a recent infection, will [produce] some cross-protective antibodies to lessen the severity of a new Omicron subvariant infection,” says Eric Bortz, a University of Alaska-Anchorage virologist and public-health expert.
What experts are now wondering is when a specific BA.5 booster will be available, and will it come in time to still be effective. It is possible that by the time this is developed, a new strain will have appeared and become dominant. “Variant-chasing is a flawed approach,” Topol offers. “By the time a BA.5 vaccine booster is potentially available, who knows what will be the predominant strain?”
It would seem that we are a long way from being free of COVID, with some experts saying that it will stick around for the long haul. “COVID is becoming like the flu,” says Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington Institute for Health.