The fear of the COVID-19 pandemic has seemingly reignited upon the arrival of the new SARS-CoV-2 variant labeled BA.5. But is it really the worst version of the virus?
When White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on MSNBC earlier this week, he did not say anything about BA.5 being the worst strain. Instead, he urged the public to continue masking up indoors and taking caution amid the outbreak.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases did acknowledge that BA.5 is among the highly contagious omicron subvariants but did not mention anything that would cause anyone to panic.
He even admitted that encouraging Americans to get vaccinated and boosted would be a “hard sell” because “everybody wants to put this pandemic behind us.”
After Fauci’s statements, several news outlets reiterated his warning but opted to hype up the new variant by making shocking claims in their headlines, Fox News pointed out Friday.
CNN ran a story Thursday with the headline, “The ‘worst variant’ is here.” The outlet cited Scripps Research professor of molecular medicine and cardiologist Eric Topol, who called BA.5 “The worst version of the virus we’ve seen.”
Compared to the earlier versions of omicron, BA.5 “takes immune escape, already extensive, to the next level, and, as a function of that, enhanced transmissibility,” Topol added.
Fortune magazine also came up with a stunning headline for its story about the new subvariant that read, “The rise of a new ‘Deltacron’? BA.5 combines the worst traits of omicron with the potential for severity reminiscent of Delta, experts say.”
Citing two studies, the magazine said BA.5 comes with two of omicron’s worst traits — transmissibility and immune invasion. It also added that the new strain affects the lungs just like the delta variant, causing a more severe form of the infection.
Other news outlets called the new variant many other things, and all of them alluded to it being the worst variant yet. The Los Angeles Times called it “dangerous,” while the Philadelphia Inquirer mentioned “super virus” in its report.
The Daily Beast came up with a moniker for the new subvariant, calling it the “ninja” version of SARS-CoV-2 and regarding it as the “most dangerous yet.”
BA.5 is the latest subvariant from omicron to cause widespread transmissions globally. The World Health Organization (WHO) said in its latest update that the new strain accounted for 52% of the cases sequenced in late June, up from 37% the week before.
“BA.5 has a growth advantage over the other sublineages of Omicron that are circulating,” WHO’s technical lead on COVID-19 Maria Van Kerkhove said.
Though BA.5 is closely related to its sibling subvariant BA.4, the former is said to be better at evading the immune protection provided by prior infection and vaccination. Hence, it could really be the worst version of the virus yet.