BA.2, an Omicron sub-variant that has undergone several genetic changes from the original Omicron virus, has been identified in Fairfax County COVID-19 patients, reports the Fairfax County Emergency Information. The sub-variant has been found in other areas across the state, the U.S. and globally. BA.2 is now estimated to be responsible for about one in three COVID-19 infections in the country and one in five COVID-19 infections in Virginia.

While BA.2 appears to be more contagious and can spread faster, it is not known to make people sicker, the report from the county said.

Recent studies show that getting a booster dose and remaining up to date on vaccination significantly increases protection against Omicron infections and hospitalizations in both adolescents and adults. The CDC this week approved a second booster shot for people over 50 who had the first booster shot at least four months ago. 

But everyone is eligible for the first booster shot, and that is important to protect against serious illness.

“Existing COVID-19 vaccines remain effective against BA.2 infections and provide similar protection as for the original Omicron virus. Staying up to date on vaccination is particularly important as people who have received a booster are much better protected against illness and hospitalization than those who have only received two vaccine doses,” says Dr. Ben Schwartz, Health Department division director of epidemiology and population health.

As we learn to live with the COVID-19 virus, we need to be prepared for the emergence of new variants, the county report said. Keeping up to date on vaccinations is the single most effective way to protect yourself since immunity gained from natural infection or vaccination is known to wane over time.

Current CDC guidance recommends a booster shot at least five months after completing the primary mRNA series, or at least two months after receiving a J&J vaccine. While the vast majority of Fairfax residents have received at least one dose of vaccine, only 57 percent of those eligible for boosters are up-to-date on their vaccinations.

Although the COVID-19 Community Level for the Fairfax Health District remains low, it is anticipated that BA.2 will likely continue to increase.

The Health Department recommends that individuals who are concerned or who are at risk of more severe illness continue to choose to mask, avoid crowded indoor locations and use other layered mitigation measures to reduce their risk. In settings where masks are worn primarily for personal protection rather than source control (i.e., capturing droplets when we breathe, talk and cough to protect others), wearing a well-fitting mask that filters out particles more effectively is important. This includes N95 respirators, and KN-95, and KF-94 masks. Free N95 respirators are available at many sites in the community.