7 Facts About the Sub-Variants of Omicron & Whether We Should be Worried Or Not

Lest you’re not aware, there’s a sub-variant of the Omicron strain of COVID-19 now.

Well, not just one, actually.

Some have gone global, while others have yet to do so.

So, before all of them do, let’s take a look at facts about the sub-variants of Omicron as well as whether we should be worried or not.

Omicron has Three Sub-variants

To put it simply, the OG of the Omicron variant is called BA.1 and the more prominent subvariant that’s taken over countries like Demark is called BA.2.

There are also two other sub-variants that are much less common, namely BA.3 and BA.1.1.529. BA.3 currently accounts for less than 400 cases worldwide.

Currently, most studies and data published are specific to the BA.2 sub-variant, though it is unclear if BA.3 and BA.1.1.529 possess the same characteristics as well.

BA.2’s The Dominant Strain in Denmark

Although there are no records as to where the BA.2 sub-variant originated, Denmark has announced that the BA.2 strain currently accounts for approximately 82% of their COVID-19 cases.

Previously, out of all the COVID-19 cases, the number of BA.2 cases increased from 20% to 40% in Denmark from end-December to the second week of January.

BA.2 is also gaining traction in other countries such as the United States, Sweden, Norway and Britain.

However, BA.1 is still the most prominent strain worldwide.

BA.2’s More Infectious Than BA.1

According to Danish studies, BA.2 is even more transmissible than the already-contagious BA.1 strain by up to 1.5 times.

According to a Danish study, this applies to everyone, regardless of whether you’re unvaccinated, vaccinated or boosted.

“We found BA.2 to be associated with an increased susceptibility of infection for unvaccinated individuals (Odds Ratio (OR) 2.19; 95%-CI 1.58-3.04), fully vaccinated individuals (OR 2.45; 95%-CI 1.77-3.40) and booster-vaccinated individuals (OR 2.99; 95%-CI 2.11-4.24), compared to BA.1”, the study wrote.

If you don’t understand those numbers, it’s just good to know that BA.2 is substantially more contagious than BA.1.

BA.2’s Competing With BA.1

With the BA.2 strain found even in places where BA.1 was the dominant strain, this raised the question of how both Omicron sub-variants are interacting with each other.

Dr Stuart Ray, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University, commented, “That suggests that maybe BA.2 is displacing BA.1, like it’s really competing.”

Dr Ray also added that the fact that BA.2 has appeared in BA.1-dominated areas suggests that these new outbreaks aren’t just an anomaly.

BA.2’s Less Resistant Towards Vaccines

If you think your little vaccinated circle at the top left corner of your SafeEntry page can protect you from anything that COVID-19 throws at you, you might feel a little better about your beliefs for the most part.

Studies have shown that vaccinations are more effective against BA.2 as compared to BA.1, especially booster shots.

For example, in the UK, according to the UK Health Security Agency, it was recorded that the effectiveness of preventing symptomatic infections for those who received both doses of the vaccine after 25 weeks was 13% against BA.2, and 9% against BA.1.

The values were much higher for those who took their booster shots, with the percentages recorded two weeks after individuals had taken the third dose of the vaccine being 70% for BA.2 and 63% for BA.1 respectively.

So if you haven’t got boosted, go get your booster shot now!

BA.2’s Harder to Track

You may not know this, but Omicron’s BA.1 sub-variant has actually been easier to track than other types of COVID-19.

This is because BA.1 does not have one of the three target genes that are tested for in a PCR test, which results in all COVID-19 cases that lack this gene being classified as BA.1 cases.

However, BA.2, which is often known as a “stealth” subvariant, does not have the same missing target gene as BA.1. This means that it is harder to identify the exact sub-variant for those who have been infected by the BA.2 sub-variant.

Hence, scientists are monitoring the BA.2 sub-variant like how they have monitored other similar variants like Delta through tracking the number of virus genomes that have been submitted to various public databases.

Even though it is harder to trace the exact sub-variant, COVID-19 ART and PCR tests will still appear positive if you’re infected with BA.2, so don’t worry about getting a false negative!

It’s Currently Unknown if BA.2 is More Severe Than BA.1

Due to the limited research, other than the fact that BA.2 is more contagious, less resistant towards vaccines and less easily detected, it is still too early to say if BA.2 is more severe than BA.1.

Currently, hospitalisation rates for both sub-variants are said to be around the same.

“Looking at other countries where BA.2 is now overtaking, we’re not seeing any higher bumps in hospitalisation than expected,” Dr Boris Pavlin from the World Health Organisation said.

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Should We Be Worried?

As to whether or not we should be worried about the increasing spread of the new sub-variants, experts say that there is currently no cause for concern.

This is even though the new Omicron sub-variants are more easily transmitted between individuals and is harder to track.

With regards to the contagious nature of BA.2 and other sub-variants, Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at Cambridge University, stressed that it should be something that we are already well-prepared for worldwide.

He mentioned that the BA.2 sub-variant “may be more transmissible by a certain margin but Omicron is already so transmissible; the incremental increase is unlikely to throw us off course.”

Additionally, the lack of increase in hospitalisation rates has also been reassuring.

Gupta also added that the new sub-variants “don’t warrant” public health measures that go “over and above” what governments have already put in place previously in response to the Omicron strain in general.

So it’s pretty safe to say that while we still stay safe and healthy, there’s no reason to worry more for now!

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