Brief reply: Most likely not.
Longer reply: Most likely not, and even when it has, it may not be harmful sufficient to do actual injury given how a lot immunity the inhabitants now has.
I wrote concerning the new Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, a number of weeks in the past. Early indications are that they are extra contagious than the present dominant subvariant within the US, BA.2.12.1, which is extra contagious than the unique Omicron, which was itself insanely contagious. Worse, as a result of pure immunity from Omicron seems to final only some months, a previous an infection isn’t any actual protection to BA.4 and BA.5. In reality, the 2 are so immune-evasive that they can puncture immunity even in somebody who’s had a current an infection.
The underside line is that persons are going to get COVID over and time and again within the age of Omicron. There is not any near-term prospect of a vaccine both that may stop it both: Though the mRNA vaccines do a high quality job of conferring immunity to extreme illness, a vaccine that may confer immunity in opposition to an infection a la the smallpox vaccine appears a methods off.
So we’re all destined to catch some Omicron subvariant or one other ultimately. During which case it is very important know if these subvariants have gotten extra virulent.
It’s possible you’ll keep in mind that after Omicron erupted in Africa final winter, scientists scrambled to determine why these contaminated with it appeared to expertise milder signs than they did with earlier coronavirus strains. The reply in line with some researchers needed to do with the place within the physique the virus took root. Earlier strains replicated within the lungs, inflicting the deadly pneumonia that is killed thousands and thousands. Omicron didn’t replicate within the lungs effectively, nonetheless. It replicated within the higher respiratory tract. As a result of it was not afflicting main organs, extra folks may shake it off with out critical injury.
Researchers in Japan say they’ve proof that BA.4 and BA.5 are higher at spreading within the lungs than their grandparent was.
In response to preliminary knowledge from Kei Sato on the College of Tokyo and colleagues, BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1 could have developed to refavour an infection of lung cells, reasonably than higher respiratory tract tissue – making them extra just like earlier variants, equivalent to Alpha or Delta…
Professor Sato’s experiments point out that BA.4, BA.5 and BA.2.12.1 replicate extra effectively in human lung cells than BA.2, whereas additional experiments in hamsters recommend that BA.4 and BA.5 could trigger extra extreme illness.
“It appears to be like like although this stuff are switching again to the extra harmful type of an infection, so going decrease down within the lung,” stated Dr Stephen Griffin, a virologist on the College of Leeds.
Sport over, man. Sport over.
Or is it? Let us take a look at some numbers. In response to this website, BA.4 and BA.5 characterize a big majority of instances over the previous 60 days in South Africa, the nation that is been hit hardest by the brand new subvariants. Over the previous 60 days, BA.4 accounts for 63 p.c of confirmed instances whereas BA.5 accounts for 20 p.c extra. Sixty days can also be loads of time for a surge of deaths to look within the knowledge, as the standard interval from an infection to dying resulting from COVID is round a month. Will we see a dying spike just lately in South Africa because of the ominous prevalence of BA.4 and BA.5?
South African researcher Tulio de Oliveira, who sounded the worldwide alarm on Omicron final yr, experiences that the BA.4 and BA.5 wave has been the * least * lethal wave skilled by the nation to date.
It is tougher to attract agency conclusions concerning the US and UK since BA.4 and BA.5 both aren’t dominant but or have not been dominant lengthy sufficient to permit us to attract a conclusion about how lethal they may be. Scientists in England consider the 2 subvariants are spreading shortly there, most likely fueled by the current jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth. Instances are up greater than 30 p.c within the final seven days – and so are hospitalizations, notably. That is fascinating circumstantial proof that there could also be one thing to the Japanese knowledge about larger virulence. However how a lot larger? This is what the dying curve appears to be like like:
It may very well be that most of the just lately hospitalized will die within the subsequent week or two, sending the curve upward, however there is no proof but that the wave England is experiencing for the time being is a very lethal one. Perhaps that is as a result of BA.4 and BA.5 aren’t as virulent as feared, however it could even be that medication has caught as much as the virus and is reworking COVID instances that will have been deadly a yr in the past into quick hospital stays. Mix intensive inhabitants immunity with higher therapeutics like Paxlovid and a a lot larger information base amongst docs and nurses on the right way to deal with the illness within the ER and even a virulent subvariant is probably not so virulent in observe. The 2 subvariants may be harmful sufficient to ship you to the hospital extra typically than Omicron would however probably not harmful sufficient to ship you to the morgue. Not at this stage of the pandemic anyway.
Yet one more glimpse on the knowledge. Look again on the excerpt above and you will see that Japanese researchers discovered that BA.2.12.1, not simply BA.4 and BA.5, seems to breed extra effectively within the lungs than the unique Omicron. Properly, in line with the CDCthere’s been a number of BA.2.12.1 within the US since early Might:
We have skilled the identical phenomenon England has over these six weeks, with not simply instances rising however hospitalizations too. In reality, the variety of folks hospitalized with COVID is now double what it was in mid-April, extra circumstantial proof that Omicron’s subvariants are actually extra virulent. However what will we see once we take a look at the dying curve?
No spike. In reality, in line with Drudge, we had fewer deaths from COVID yesterday (293) than we had on the identical date a yr in the past (301) despite the fact that we had practically * 9 occasions * as many confirmed instances – and possibly many extra occasions that in actuality, if we may embody all the individuals who examined constructive yesterday on speedy checks however by no means bothered confirming their an infection with a lab. Even within the age of the Omicron subvariants, the virus is killing vastly fewer folks as a proportion of infections than it used to. There is not any good cause but to assume BA.4 and BA.5 are notably threatening.