Memphis doctors prepare for new COVID subvariant

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — COVID cases are continuing to decline in Shelby County, but don’t let your guard down just yet.

A new subvariant of omicron, called BA.2, is starting to spread around the U.S., and experts fear this could cause a spike in cases.

“We may never know what may happen. So, we have to be very vigilant,” Dr. Manoj Jain, an infectious disease specialist who is also head of the Shelby County Covid Task Force, said.

Dr. Jain is studying the impacts of BA.2, which was detected in Europe, and is now starting to spread in parts of the U.S.

“I think we likely will see some rise in cases. However, if people are vaccinated and boosted, there’s a very good chance that they will be highly protected,” he said.

The new variant is even more transmissible than the original omicron strain.

Dr. Jain said, so far, Shelby County has reported two cases of BA.2., but he said the county hasn’t seen a significant rise in cases as a result.

“What’s really important to keep in mind is variants will come and go,” he said. “There is no question this is going to be happening over the next several years.”

Dr. LaTonya Washington, the chief medical officer with Methodist North Hospital, said the severity of new variants will differ, and some will last longer than others.

“There is a risk we could have more peaks and more spikes of COVID infection in our communities, and so that’s always something to be concerned about,” she said.

Dr. Washington said the good news is research shows the vaccine is very effective against all known variants.

“We are really hoping we don’t ever get to the point where that may not be true. But for right now, we know that is the best way to protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19,” she said.

This week, Pfizer requested authorization from the FDA for a fourth dose of their vaccine in people ages 65 and older.

If approved, Dr. Jain said it would be a good idea for that age group and immunocompromised people to consider getting a fourth shot.