Top White House Doctor Says BA.5 ‘Most Immune Evasive’ COVID Variant Yet

White House COVID coordinator Dr. Ashish Jha on Sunday declared the new BA.5 subvariant of COVID “the most immune evasive” and urged older Americans and those with compromised immune systems to take a booster shot.

The vaccines and boosters that Americans took were targeted at the original strain, and while it offers protection from severe illness with other variants, Jha said that is limited.

“We’re still seeing some protection against infection but not as much,” Jha told ABC “This Week” co-anchor Martha Raddatz. “This is that immune evasive nature of this virus. So if you got your booster let’s say last November or December, you don’t have as much protection against this virus as you’d like.”

Top U.S. health officials are now recommending another booster shot for most Americans, and a panel of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is working on a new one that could be released this fall that would target the Omicron variant and its subvariants, including BA.5.

Jha said BA.5 is highly contagious, noting health officials nationwide are seeing “high levels of reinfection,” meaning the virus can get past both antibodies created by the vaccine or those created when someone gets the actual virus.

“We’re seeing people who are not up to date on their vaccines have a lot of breakthrough infections,” Jha said. “So this is an area of concern, but we know how to manage this. … One of the key messages coming out of this moment is: If you are 50 or over and you have not gotten a shot this year … it is absolutely critical that you go out and get one now.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week estimated BA.5 accounts for about 65% of all COVID cases in the U.S. Another strain, BA.4, is responsible for about 16% of infections.

“BA.5 is something we’re closely monitoring, and most importantly, we know how to manage it,” Jha said last Tuesday at the White House.

“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,” Jha said. “And even in the face of BA.5, the tools we have continue to work.”

BA.5 concerns scientists because it can infect people who have already had COVID or been vaccinated.

Last month, a panel of independent advisers that works with the FDA recommended producing new COVID vaccines to target the Omicron variant.

By a 19-2 vote, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee approved a plan to have new vaccines ready by early October. The panel said the newly formulated vaccines are needed because new subvariants of the Omicron strain appear to be able to bypass antibodies delivered via previous vaccines.

Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent for a national newspaper. He was also the a.m. editor of the Drudge Report for four years. Send tips to [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @josephcurl.


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