MILWAUKEE — It's being called the most infectious and transmissible Covid variant yet. BA.5 is now the dominant strain both statewide and nationwide. In Wisconsin, Covid hospitalizations are up 10 percent over this time last month.
The most common symptoms of BA.5 are runny nose, sore throat, headache, persistent cough, and fatigue. The main concern is it appears to evade protection from vaccines and previous covid infections more easily than any variant we've seen before.
“I developed a fever of 102 and exhaustion like I’ve never experienced before,” said Thalia Mendez, who contracted Covid despite being fully vaccinated and boosted. “Because I just had it, I now must wait three months before I can get the next booster shot. I'm a strong believer in science.”
For many, the battle to get control over Covid can feel more daunting with each new variant.
“My question is, when will it stop being on the rise?” said Dionne Villarreal. “It just keeps going up and down, and I just want it to end.”
A new booster shot specifically targeting BA.5 is on the way. Pfizer says it could be ready to be distributed by October.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration estimates that Omicron-specific boosters from both Pfizer and Moderna will be available this fall.
“Is it better than the booster we have now? That’s going to be a big question,” said Dr. Dan Shirley, The Medical Director of Infection Prevention at UW Health.
Dr. Shirley says there’s no data yet on whether there will be a dramatic difference in protection between additional boosts of the current vaccines and new variant-specific shots. But he says there is plenty of data proving current vaccines work to prevent severe illness and death.
“If you're eligible for a booster shot, now is the time to protect yourself,” Dr. Shirley. “Don’t wait. The best thing to do is get it now. Don't wait for any new version to come out. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."
As for the public's frustration to get Covid under control, Dr. Shirley recommends we trust science and stay the course.
“We’ve never had a virus with this many variants developing so fast,” Dr. Shirley said. “I know it feels like we're going to have endless boosters every three months, but that's not the long-term goal. Right now, we're trying to catch up and get over these humps. We're still in the thick of it right now. The problem is that we keep getting these surges. That’s why it’s so important to get more people vaccinated. There is not one solution, this is going to be a layered approach.”
Because of the current surge of BA.5, both Dr. Shirley and Milwaukee County's Chief Health Policy Advisor, Dr. Ben Weston, recommend wearing a mask again while inside busy public spaces close to others.