more worrisome than the original Omicron, other than a potentially slight increase in transmissibility,” says Brooke Nichols, an infectious-disease mathematical modeler at Boston University.
Dennis Cunningham, the system medical director of infection control and prevention at Henry Ford Health in Detroit, told NBC News that the symptoms from the Omicron subvariants “have been pretty consistent. There’s less incidence of people losing their sense of taste and smell. In a lot of ways, it’s a bad cold, a lot of respiratory symptoms, stuffy nose, coughing, body aches, and fatigue.”
Q: If you get infected by one subvariant, will you be protected against others?
So far, in all variants to date, the ability of the virus to evade existing immune protection “is only partial, much like it is for the seasonal flu,” says Colin Russell, a professor of applied evolutionary biology at the University of Amsterdam’s medical center.
While some people who had BA.1 have also gotten BA.2, the initial research suggests that infection with BA. 1 “provides strong protection against reinfection with BA.2,” the World Health Organization has said.
“This may explain why our BA.2 surge in the U.S. was not that large as the very large BA.1 surge over the winter,” Gandhi adds.
The level of protection can vary depending on how sick you were, with mild cases boosting immunity for perhaps a month or two and recovery from a severe illness granting up to a year.
Q: How do existing COVID-19 vaccines stack up against these subvariants?
Although the current vaccines and boosters aren’t quite as successful in protecting against Omicron as they are against earlier variants, they will generally protect people from severe disease if they are infected by one of the new subvariants.
“We’re steady as she goes with the vaccines we’re using,” says Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine and health policy at Vanderbilt University. “I have not seen a single study from the field that shows a substantial distinction between the vaccine responses to Omicron subvariants.”
The vaccines generate cells known as “memory B cells” and have been shown to recognize different variants as they emerge, Gandhi notes. The vaccines also trigger the production of T cells, which protect against severe disease, she shares.
“While B cells serve as memory banks to produce antibodies when needed, T cells amplify the body’s response to a virus and help recruit cells to attack the pathogen directly,” Gandhi adds.
The end result is that a breakthrough infection for a vaccinated individual “should