COVID Variant Myths: Debunking misconceptions about new coronavirus variants such as "BA.5" or "Ninja"
America may want the coronavirus pandemic to be over, but new numbers show the infection is far from done with us, thanks in part to new variants BA.5, otherwise known as "ninja" variant. But, what exactly do we know about them?
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Infectious disease expert Dr. Amesh Adalja joined Good Day DC on Monday to break down some misconceptions about these new variants.
One misconception is that the new COVID-19 variants can reinfect people at a higher and higher rate. Dr. Adalja says that is sort of true.
"What we know about this new variant, BA.5, is that the immunity that other variants have provided for people who have been naturally infected or who have been vaccinated isn't sufficient to prevent you from getting infected," he says. "Coronavirus has evolved to be able to get around our immunity and infect us all the time. This virus comes from a family of viruses that cause 30% of our common colds, and we all get multiple coronavirus infections."
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Dr. Adalja says it's not the infection we should be worried about, but the risk of ending up in the hospital.
"What you're protected against is severe disease," he says. "We've got to draw a distinction between getting infected and having severe disease and ending up in the hospital, which is unlikely in people who have high levels of immunity."
Another misconception is that the BA.5 variant, or the "ninja variant," is the most dangerous one yet. Dr. Adalja says this is not true.
"It's definitely the most contagious, but I don't think we have any evidence that it's more severe," he says. "South Africa had a wave of BA.5, and it really stayed out of the hospital, so I don't think it's the most dangerous. It's the most transmissible, the most contagious, but not the most dangerous."
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Should you get the fourth COVID-19 booster shot if you're eligible?
"If you're somebody that's at a high risk for severe disease…those are people that we want to get that fourth shot because it will protect them against severe disease," Dr. Adalja says. "If you're in one of the lower-risk groups, including myself, I don't think that the fourth shot really benefits that type of person because they are already at low risk for severe disease."
Dr. Adalja says it will be several years before COVID-19 resembles the flu with an annual shot. However, he says, we're headed in that direction.
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"It's not going to be some official declaration from the government that this is what it is," he says. "It's going to be people acclimatizing to it, people learning how to risk calculate, people incorporating the risk calculation with COVID-19 into their day-to-day life, and to me, that stage is starting to already happen, because when you don't have hospitals being crushed, I think you're in a different position, and that's always been the goal."