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Florida’s projected summer surge: How protected are you if you had COVID in 2022?

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 5/20/2022 Cindy Krischer Goodman, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Nurse practitioner Kathryn Pebanco prepares to administer the second Moderna shot to a person at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy in Plantation on Friday, May 13, 2022. © Mike Stocker / South Florida/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS Nurse practitioner Kathryn Pebanco prepares to administer the second Moderna shot to a person at the MinuteClinic inside the CVS Pharmacy in Plantation on Friday, May 13, 2022.

For the past two summers, COVID cases have surged in Florida, and public health experts predict the pattern will repeat in 2022.

Indeed, in a recent visit to Florida, Deborah Birx, former White House coronavirus response coordinator, said Florida should expect a big COVID surge this summer, probably by the end of June.

A summer wave could be driven by new forms of omicron emerging in South Africa — BA.4 and BA.5. These two highly contagious subvariants already have caused cases to quadruple in South Africa in the past two weeks, despite high immunity levels there.

Dr. Aileen Marty, an expert in infectious disease with Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, says she believes BA.4 and BA.5 will arrive in Florida in the next few weeks.

So far, no one knows if these subvariants will be able to compete with BA.2.12.2, an omicron subvariant that has increased its presence across the U.S. and in Florida in recent weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and positive samples sequenced by Helix.

BA.4 and BA.5 already have spread to more than 20 countries across North America, Asia, and Europe.

Here are seven things to know about BA.4 and BA.5 from early research:

  • Their mutations allow them to re-infect people who have already had an omicron infection. In Florida, that group includes almost everyone who had COVID in 2022.
  • Chances of getting re-infected by BA.4 or BA.5 may be higher for people who are not vaccinated, as much as five times higher.
  • BA.4 and BA.5 data reinforce the need for boosters in vulnerable people to keep antibody levels high.
  • These two omicron subvariants already have crept into the U.S. with a few cases documented in California.
  • BA.4 and BA.5 are not evolving to give infected people a higher chance of hospitalization or death.
  • BA.4 and BA.5 have mutations that enable them to spread even faster than the previous versions of omicron.
  • So far, symptoms of the new variants seem pretty similar to the typical omicron such as fever, congestion and fatigue.

In Florida, BA.2, also known as stealth omicron, is the dominant strain.

But that could change.

In South Africa, BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are more transmissible than stealth omicron and have replaced that strain in less than a month.

Marty says the message is don’t rely on a previous infection as immunity with the subvariants from South Africa likely to arrive soon.

“Make sure you are up to date on vaccines and boosters.”

©2022 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Visit sun-sentinel.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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