(The Hill) — Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said Tuesday that a new omicron subvariant on the rise is something to take seriously but should not be a cause for panic.
The subvariant, known as BA.5, now makes up the majority of COVID-19 cases in the United States. It is even more highly transmissible than earlier variants of the virus and has an increased ability to evade the protection of vaccines and prior infections.
But health officials stressed that vaccines still provide important protection against severe illness, especially if people stay up-to-date on their booster shots.
“We should not let it disrupt our lives, but we cannot deny that it is a reality we need to deal with,” Fauci said at a White House press briefing.
“It’s something that A, we don’t panic on, B, we don’t let it disrupt our lives, but we take it seriously enough and utilize the tools that we have to mitigate,” he later added.
The White House on Tuesday released a fact sheet with its plan for fighting the subvariant, which was largely a continuation of measures the administration had previously emphasized.
Health officials stressed that the availability of vaccines, booster shots and treatments like Pfizer’s Paxlovid pills mean that the country is in a much better place, even with the new subvariant, compared to earlier in the pandemic.
“Even in the face of BA.5, the tools we have continue to work,” said Ashish Jha, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator.
There was no indication of a major shift in strategy back towards emphasizing restrictions like mask mandates, though officials did mention that masking helps to lower the spread of the virus.
Officials are discussing opening up second booster shots to all adults but noted the final decision is with the Food and Drug Administration. Currently, second booster shots are only authorized for those 50 and older.
However, many people have not received a third shot. About half of adults with the first two shots have received their first booster, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.
Officials stressed that people should get their booster shots now, especially if they have not received a shot yet in 2022, because immunity wanes over time.