Doctors weigh in on COVID-19 reinfection risk as BA.5 variant circulates

The BA.5 variant could cause some issues when the new school year begins, one local doctor says.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2022
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As we approach fall and await COVID-19 boosters that are omicron specific, two doctors break down the new variants and the risk they pose.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As we approach fall and await COVID-19 boosters that are omicron specific, two doctors break down the new variants and the risk they pose.

Dr. Debra Powell, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Tower Health, the BA.5 variant could cause some issues when the new school year begins.

"I do think we will see an uptick once children go back to school. This variant is more infectious and there will be more variants that come next," she said. "The new variant BA.5 is more infectious than prior variants - about five times as infectious."

The BA.5 variant makes up an estimated 86% of cases nationally, but Dr. Powell says, right now, they are managing it.

"In the hospital, we are seeing a stable rate - between 25 and 35 patients per day - compared to prior years. When we had the big uptick in January we had like 150 in the hospital. We have numbers now that we can manage," Powell said.

Some people who have already had COVID-19 are facing the possibility of reinfection.

"We know it occurs more with this new variant because it has evaded some of the vaccine and natural immunity protection. But when it comes along it has not, fortunately, caused severe illness or higher rates of death or hospitalization," said family physician Dr. Delana Wardlaw.

"Most people don't get reinfected right after those initial infections, but there are people who get infected three to six months after, even with prior vaccination because this virus is so infectious," said Powell.

President Biden is dealing with a rebound case after taking the antiviral medication Paxlovid, which doctors say is different than reinfection.

"By taking antivirals we try to kill the virus off and suppress it, but after the medication ends, the virus starts to remultiply again so we may have to adjust the dose or duration," said Powell.

And with a new school year starting soon, doctors want to remind parents to speak with your child's doctor. COVID-19 vaccines are currently available to children as young as six months.