ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) — Almost two years ago, the first coronavirus case was reported in the U.S. Multiple variants, lockdowns, and mandates later, the battle against COVID rages on with a new sub-variant.
COVID is mutating and changing on a regular basis and there are renewed concerns that it could be here to stay. Data from Europe and Asia shows the “stealth” sub-variant of COVID could be the latest mutation, but little is known about its transmissibility.
“It appears to be a variation of the omicron variant. They haven’t seen any evidence that it is more contagious or more deadly than omicron,” Dr. Justin Nistico, infectious disease expert at Arnot Health said. BA-2, or “stealth,” is much harder to identify in test results, according to Dr. Nistico, which is why experts are referring to it as such.
This news comes days after Pfizer and Moderna announced phase two clinical trials for an omicron-specific vaccine. Once the data reaches the FDA’s desk, it could be too late. As the new booster shots continue through trials, public health departments nationwide are preparing for an additional vaccine rollout.
“I think the biggest problem is public messaging. I think it’s going to be very difficult,” Chemung County Public Health Director Pete Buzzetti added.
Leading health experts are saying it is unlikely the virus will be eliminated in the near term, meaning mutations will continue to develop. “That’s why a pandemic is a pandemic. It’s a worldwide event where it’s readily spread throughout every place you could potentially go to,” Dr. Nistico continued.
The final message remains the same from Buzzetti. He encourages everyone to think about getting vaccinated or if you are already vaccinated, he asks you to consider getting boosted. Buzzetti also added everyone should continue masking and social distancing to prevent the virus from spreading. “The message from public health is prevention is still the key through this,” Buzzetti concluded.
Dr. Fauci said a pan-coronavirus vaccine is needed to target all variants; however, he cautioned this type of vaccine would take years to develop. “I don’t want anyone to think that pan coronavirus vaccines are literally around the corner in a month or two,” Fauci said. “It’s going to take years to develop.”
Top medical officials say it’s unlikely the novel coronavirus will be eradicated or eliminated. Instead, they say the country and world should aim to get the virus under control. Fauci referred to a “level of control that does not disrupt us in society.”
According to Fauci, that level of controlling the virus will mean fewer hospitalizations and deaths, similar to numbers from the flu. To facilitate that, Fauci says people need to get the currently available vaccines and boosters because they still provide high protection against severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
While omicron is associated with less severe symptoms, medical officials warn people should not become complacent. “Importantly, milder does not mean mild,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. “We cannot look past the strain on our health systems and substantial number of deaths.”