White House Coronavirus Response Co-ordinator says they are monitoring COVID-19 variant BA.5

The White House Coronavirus Response Co-ordinator, Dr Ashish Jha, says while they are closely monitoring the COVID-19 variant BA.5, they know how to manage it. This comes after it was established that the highly-transmissible BA.5 is now the dominant Omicron sub-variant in the United States as daily case numbers reach around 180 000.

And while vaccines remain the best protection against severe outcomes, the seven-day average death toll now exceeds 400 a day.

The latest immune-evasive sub-variant is leading to a new surge in case numbers, deaths, and hospitalizations in the US. But COVID-19 is not the main story in the newsrooms across the country anymore, amid widespread fatigue, warmer summer months, and close to over 220 million people now considered fully- vaccinated in addition to almost 90 million infections countrywide.

Case numbers continue to be driven among states with the lowest vaccination rates as the conversation also shifts to waning immunity and the need for booster shots.

“Vaccines remain our single-most important tool to protect people against serious illness, hospitalizations, and death. And staying up to date is essential as we see BA.5 rise across the country. We encourage all Americans to get vaccinated if they haven’t already. Americans, age five and above, should get their first booster shot within – after five months after the initial vaccination. And if you haven’t, don’t delay. Do it now. Getting vaccine – getting vaccinated now will not preclude you from getting a variant-specific vaccine later in this fall or winter,” says Jha.

The FDA continues to evaluate efforts to create a modified vaccine booster shot that would specifically target the new super-contagious omicron variants of BA.4 or BA.5 with a decision expected sometime this month that could see an anticipated rollout by October.

“We have put in one order so far with Pfizer for 105 million doses, if I recall. Obviously, that will not be enough for all Americans. We are continuing to think about other orders, talking to other companies. But that order has been placed to get the next generation of bivalent vaccines, as directed by FDA and FDA’s recommendations about what specific makeup of that vaccine will be.”

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the Director of the Centres for Disease Control.

“While there is no evidence available to suggest that BA.4 or 5 cause more severe disease, and we are still collecting data on the vaccine effectiveness against BA.4 and BA.5, we know that vaccine effectiveness against severe disease and death remains high for other Omicron sublineages and likely also for BA.4 and 5.”

But until those next-generation vaccines are available, everyone has been encouraged to keep up to date with vaccines based on their eligibility. With broad consensus in the scientific community that wearing a high-quality mask indoors, in public spaces is an important tool to control the spread of COVID-19.

Dr. Anthony Fauci is the President’s Chief Medical Advisor.

“The overall principle is that we know immunity wanes with coronaviruses, whether that is natural infection or vaccination. And so, if you’ve been infected or vaccinated and your time comes for a boost, that’s when you should go and get the boost.”

Dr. Fauci, who has been the face of America’s public health emergencies for decades, also revealed in a Politico interview this week that he expects to retire by the end of President Joe Biden’s first term – which would be around January 2025.

The 81-year-old Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has become a huge target for Republican lawmakers who have accused him of misleading the public on the origins of the coronavirus and vowed to investigate his leading role in the COVID-19 response were they to win control of Congress after the midterm elections this November – an investigation Dr. Fauci insists he’s not worried about.

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