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BA.5 variant of COVID-19 now on the increase

Just a few weeks ago, The Journal Sentinel placed an editorial titled "Worst of COVID-19 may be over."  Well, by the end of that week, the CDC was releasing information that the virus is ramping up once again, and now the new variant, BA.5, is the one that is escalating.  In fact, in just one week in July, BA.5 was reported to comprise 80 percent of all new infections, up from 67 percent from the week before.

Although this subvariant of Omicron was detected in the U.S. in April 2022, BA.5 has spread wildly across the U.S. in only three months.  As this BA.5 variant takes over the pandemic, symptoms are similar to those seen in other strains of the virus. Those infected with BA.5 can experience congestion, headaches, cough, and fever, with some persons experiencing no symptoms at all.

Just like with other variants, BA.5 infections can last a few days up to a few weeks, but this varies significantly by individual.

One bright spot is this past week's endorsement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for a newer Novavax vaccine.  Health officials say that this is a more traditional kind of vaccine, referred to as a protein vaccine, against COVID-19. This vaccine is built on a different technology than those vaccines previously available.  Novavax will be targeting the adult  population numbering between 26 million and 37 million who have not yet had a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

To explain the difference, all of the vaccines used in the U.S. train the body to fight the coronavirus by recognizing its outer coating, the spike protein.   The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines deliver genetic instructions for the body to make copies of the spike protein.  The lesser-used Johnson & Johnson option uses a cold virus to deliver those instructions.

In contrast, the Novavax vaccine injects copies of the spike protein that are grown in a lab and packaged into nano-particles that to the immune system resemble a virus.  Another difference is that an ingredient called an adjuvant is added to help rev up that immune response.

Protein vaccines have been used for years to prevent other diseases such as hepatitis B and shingles.

Studies in the U.S., Mexico, and Britian have found that two doses of the Novavax vaccine were safe and about 90 percent effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. The two doses are given three weeks apart, but it is possible to wait up to eight weeks for the second dose.

In its first purchase, the U.S. bought 3.2 million doses, and vaccinations of Novavax are expected to start within the next few weeks.  Information has not yet been provided locally on when the Novavax vaccine may be available for Tattnall County.