As Governor Baker allows local school districts to make their own decisions about mask policy, Sharon Wright, MD, MPH (Infection Protection, BIDMC) discussed the importance of flexibility and understanding people’s choices about mask-wearing in this next phase of the pandemic. She specifies how high vaccination rates, daily symptom reporting, and testing protocols help schools in Massachusetts remain safe during the pandemic.
A more contagious subvariant of Omicron, known as BA.2, is rapidly spreading across the globe and is now the top COVID-19 variant in at least 18 countries, representing 35% of all new cases worldwide, according to new data from the World Health Organization. Although BA.2 seems more transmissible, it doesn’t appear to be more severe than BA.1 omicron. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) suggests that vaccinated individuals who have had BA.1 also developed antibodies that could lead to a substantial degree of immunity to BA.2.
Even as COVID-19 cases have been dropping around the world, the relative proportion of cases caused by BA.2, an Omicron variant, has been increasing. It is outcompeting the original Omicron strain in at least 43 countries, prompting fears of another devastating pandemic wave. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) states that as of now, there is no need to sound a global alarm – but more attention needs to be paid to BA.2 due to its growth advantage.
New studies suggest that several parts of the immune system can mount a sustained, potent response to any coronavirus variant. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) discusses how compared with antibodies, T cells are often an afterthought and largely ignored. Barouch states how important T cells are for protection against new variants that might emerge.
When it comes to post-infection immunity, the relevant scientific question isn’t whether natural immunity exists but whether it’s as protective and lasts as long as vaccine-induced immunity. Studies have given conflicting answers. In a recent study published in Science led by Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC), scientists confirmed that an infection with SARS-CoV-2 creates some degree of immunity. Barouch said the study was not so much to test natural immunity but as part of the vaccine program led by his team.
Due to the tens of thousands of cases reported in the recent surge, concerns over an ensuing potential increase of long COVID are starting to crop up among experts who study and treat the condition. Jason Maley, MD (Pulmonary Disease, BIDMC) stated that Omicron infections were so common that doctors are certainly seeing it result in long COVID, and expect that it will result in continued high demand for care for people with long COVID.
Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) discussed how BA.2, an Omicron variant, might prolong the Omicron surge, but emphasizes how his data suggests that it would not lead to a brand-new additional surge. Barouch and other researchers believe that BA.2 is unlikely to spark a second major wave of infections, hospitalizations and deaths after Omicron’s initial onslaught.
New studies suggest that vaccinated individuals have strong T cell immunity against the Omicron variant, even when antibodies wane. Dan Barouch, MD, PhD (Center for Virology and Vaccine Research, BIDMC) discussed how compared with antibodies, T cells are often an afterthought and largely ignored. Barouch emphasizes how important T cells are for protection against new variants that might emerge.
Physicians who treat long COVID are worried about the potential for a new wave of cases. Jason Maley, MD (Pulmonary Disease, BIDMC), who is the head of BIDMC’s COVID-19 Survivorship Program for patients experiencing long-haul COVID-19 symptoms, states that he is starting to see Omicron-related cases, adding that he has little reason to think the variant will differ from earlier versions of the virus in its ability to generate long COVID.