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New omicron subvariant has 'concerning features,' doctors say

BA.5 is responsible for an estimated 65% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and health experts say it could be "the worst variant yet."

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new omicron subvariant known as BA.5 is now the most dominant strain of coronavirus in the U.S., and while it's still early, experts say BA.5 may be the most contagious one yet. 

The BA.5 variant is now responsible for an estimated 65% of COVID-19 cases across the country. What does this mean for vaccines? Are the current vaccines and boosters still able to protect us? 

Let's connect the dots

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Vaccine antibodies

Right now, people have the highest antibodies about two-to-four weeks after they get a vaccine dose. 

Experts in the U.S. still think we are protected from reinfection for at least two to three months. 

“It’s well past the time when the warning could have been put out there,” said Dr. Eric Topol, head of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, who has has called BA.5 “the worst variant yet.”

Get boosted now

Health experts say if you only got your initial COVID shots to get boosted as soon as possible. That's because with the original omicron strain, two doses weren't nearly as good as three. 

“This has been a botched booster campaign,” Topol said, noting that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still uses the term “fully vaccinated” for people with two shots of Moderna or Pfizer. “They haven’t gotten across that two shots is totally inadequate,” he said.

Reinfection is possible

Even with a booster, the new variants can still be an issue.

Unlike earlier variants, a previous infection doesn't guarantee protection from BA.5. Experts say even if you had COVID in the last three months, this new variant may still be able to infect you again because the variant can better evade that protection

“It does have some concerning features from what we know so far," Dr. Katie Passaretti with Atrium Health said. "We have not seen that variant, at this time, take off and cause substantial spread really in the U.S., and in our area, BA.5 is the primary one causing our current issues."

Despite that, health officials say vaccination is your best bet. The shots still protect against severe disease, hospitalizations and death. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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