Coronavirus variant – What is known so far about the new omicron variant BA.2

Sequencing of positive PCR tests can be used to detect the exact variants of the coronavirus – including BA.2. (picture alliance/dpa)

The coronavirus variant Omicron has further sub-variants: In addition to the sub-type BA.1., which currently dominates in Germany, there are also the sub-types BA.2 and others. In Denmark, BA.2 has supplanted the other variants. Danish researchers have examined this subtype and traced infection chains in Danish households.

It is known from Denmark and other countries that BA.2 has prevailed or can prevail against BA.1. This suggests that the virus variant is more contagious. This is also one of the results of the study in Denmark, explains the immunologist Carsten Watzl in Dlf: “The probability of becoming infected with a household member is twice as high if this household member is infected with BA.2 than it is with BA. 1 was the case. But – and here comes the caveat – this effect was only found when looking at the unvaccinated. The probability was not increased in the vaccinated.”

The transmission of the virus has something to do with the viral load. The CT value was analyzed in the PCR tests, i.e. the proof of how much virus was present in the smear, reports Watzl. Result: The viral load was higher in the unvaccinated when infected with BA.2 than with BA.1. “This means that this new variant manages to multiply even more successfully or more in unvaccinated people. And that means that the probability that such a person will pass on the virus is also significantly increased.”

And if you are dealing with a virus whose transmission is twice as high as the current variant, then you can be prepared for the incidences to go up a bit again.

This was not analyzed in the study. But since this variant is predominant in Denmark, it doesn’t look like it, explains immunologist Watzl: “You can see very high incidences in Denmark, but comparatively low cases in the intensive care unit or in general in the hospital. And that seems to be the case now not to have changed much with this new variant.”

Occupancy of intensive care units in Germany

Watzl estimates that it is not a variant “that is really worrying in terms of pathogenicity – i.e. how pathogenic it is.”

Will BA.2 also prevail in Germany?

That’s to be expected. You already there, increasing, but has not yet replaced the BA.1 variant. If that happens, it could be that the omicron wave gets a little longer, says Watzl. “When we’ve just got BA.1 – the currently predominant variant – under control to some extent, there can be a small second wave of BA.2. Ultimately, it could be that we’ll be there for a little longer Omicron will have to do.” This means that in Germany, too, you have to reckon with somewhat higher peaks in infections.

How well does the vaccination protect against BA.2?

With this new variant, the vaccinations still protect very well against a severe course, emphasizes immunologist Watzl. There is already data on this. “That means I might expect an extension of the high incidences in Germany, but no real change in the burden of disease.”

This is how vaccinations work in Germany

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