Are the vaccines protective against the Omicron subvariant BA.2?
Yes, all of the FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccines appear to protect against BA.2. Overall, the CDC continues to generally recommend mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer or Moderna over the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) vaccine to protect against any COVID-19 strain including BA.2.
Are people who were infected with BA.1 protected from BA.2?
Generally, people who were recently infected with BA.1 are protected from being reinfected with BA.2, although rare reinfections have been reported. We also know that the more time passes after a previous COVID-19 infection, the more your immunity wanes, so your risk of being reinfected especially with a different strain starts increasing after several months.
Is the surge in cases in Europe and Asia any indication of what we can expect in the U.S.?
It’s not clear yet whether the COVID-19 trends in the U.S. will mirror what’s being seen in many parts of Europe and Asia. One reason things could look different in the U.S. is that we had an enormous BA.1 Omicron wave very recently, so people who were infected with BA.1 are unlikely to get infected with BA.2 in the next few months. It’s possible that could protect us to some degree from another big wave imminently, but it’s too soon to say.
With mask mandates lifting, what should people keep in mind in terms of precautions and how to best protect themselves?
Knowing that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon, we’re now all trying to figure out how best to live with the virus and how to adjust what we do based on future waves and variants that we are likely to see. First and foremost, the best way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated and to get a booster if you are eligible. Even with the most recent Omicron BA.1 wave, fully vaccinated people were much less likely to get infected than unvaccinated people, and they were also extremely unlikely to be hospitalized from COVID-19. This protection was even greater for people who had received the COVID-19 booster.
While the CDC and many states have relaxed masking requirements for areas with low community transmission of COVID-19, it’s important for people to be prepared to go back to masking and taking other precautions when the numbers go back up again. If numbers in your community go into the CDC high-risk level, it is recommended that you resume masking indoors. I would also consider avoiding large crowded places as well as indoor spaces where masking is not feasible, such as indoor dining in restaurants and bars.
For some people, like those who are elderly or those with weakened immune systems, it may be prudent to keep taking precautions like masking indoors even if community transmission rates are low, but particularly when they start to go into the CDC medium-risk level. The same precautions might be considered if you live in the same household as someone who is elderly or has a weakened immune system, or people who encounter these types of individuals at work, such as healthcare workers.
Another consideration for everyone is to take extra precautions during the weeks leading up to a large social gathering, like a family get-together, or before a planned trip. Being vigilant about masking and avoiding potential exposures could prevent your plans from being interrupted or, even worse, leading to transmission to your friends and family.
Finally, even when community transmission is low, everyone should continue to take seriously any potential symptoms of COVID-19 (such as fever, cough, sore throat, head and body aches, etc.), self-isolate, and get yourself tested. Testing before large get-togethers may also be a good idea, especially if vulnerable people (elderly or immune compromised) are attending.