New COVID variant could push surge but unlikely to be as big

Published 6:45 pm Friday, April 1, 2022

Another COVID-19 variant is making the planetary rounds, however, Mayo doctors are cautioning that this one probably won’t cause the larger surge previous variants have.

During a Zoom conference call Thursday, doctors discussed the possible ramifications of the BA.2 variant, which is actually a subvariant of omicron.

“This in some ways is a sibling or child of the original omicron variant identified in Nov. 2021,” said Matthew Binnicker, Ph.D, director of the Clinical Virology Laboratory at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. “It has a number of unique mutations that distinguish it from the omicron variant.”

One of those differences relate to the spike gene that allows the virus to bind to host cells.

Because of this, BA.2 may be transmitted more efficiently. On top of that, the BA.2 variant may also avoid immunities either brought on by past infection or vaccines.

BA.2 has already proven to be the dominant variant in places like the United Kingdom and in some places within the United States.

However, both Binnicker and John O’Horo, M.D., who is the infectious disease specialist at Mayo, agree that all indications point to any surge originating from BA.2 is unlikely to cause the surge omicron caused, or delta before that.

“The next several weeks we would be likely to see some increase,” O’Horo said. “Between vaccinations and prior infections, it’s not likely to be a spike near the order of what we’ve seen in previous strains.”

That being said, the advice is to still get the vaccine as it provides the most protection in the face of severe COVID-19 illness.

“Vaccination delivers a much more standardized immune response,” Binnicker said.

While vaccinations are up, it’s not to the level most medical professionals would like to see.

“We’ve been seeing a trickle of people come in fairly constantly over the last few months,” O’Horo said. “There has not been a major shift that I’m aware of in that group.”