The BA.5 variant of Covid-19 is causing a surge in cases throughout the country. Hospitalizations have risen 20% in the past two weeks, with an average of 40,000 Americans in the hospital with coronavirus each day. Some of the hardest hit areas are states in the Great Plains, West, and South.
Despite the surge, public health experts are holding back on issuing restrictions. While deaths are rising, it’s only a small amount compared to previous waves. Officials attribute this to vaccines, treatments, and increasing immunity.
One issue is the lack of data. If people test at all, they do so at home since most public testing sites have closed. These results aren’t reported. Instead, health departments are using a wide range of metrics to track the virus’ spread, such as samples from wastewater testing sites and hospitalization metrics.
Another problem is that most Americans are over the pandemic and mandates, meaning they would be less likely to comply if measures were implemented. Despite the high transmissibility, since death rates are currently low, many officials would rather wait until the number of hospitalizations and deaths occur at a higher rate before releasing mandatory guidelines.
Since it’s becoming more challenging to avoid getting Covid-19 due to the rise in subvariants, many individuals are turning to Pfizer’s antiviral Paxlovid to minimize the severity of the disease. However, experts point out that the medicine isn’t for everyone. It’s only for those at risk of severe side effects, like those with a weakened immune system, asthma, cancer, liver disease, lung disease, heart disease, and obesity. Experts also mention that the medication can have harmful interactions with common drugs.
The efficacy of Paxlovid has decreased as more people have become vaccinated. The latest data from the company shows it’s 57% effective at reducing the risk of hospitalization and death among vaccinated people with a lower risk of severe illness. Other recently released data indicates that the drug doesn’t decrease the number of symptoms of people of any vaccination status who have a moderate risk of severe disease compared to individuals not taking it.
Given the rise in the BA.5 and BA.4 variants, the vaccine makers are working on developing reformulated shots that specifically target them. As a result, the goal of getting second booster shots for individuals under 50 is on hold. The targeted boosters will contain elements of the subvariants and the original formula. Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech plan to have their vaccines available by early to mid-September.