As variants continue to circulate and develop, White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha says the U.S. has “got to stay on top of this virus” as it quickly evolves.
“We’re still in the middle of this pandemic,” Jha said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week. ”
The latest COVID-19 subvariant, BA.5, is the most highly transmissible to date, Jha said. It’s also “immune-evasive,” leading to high levels of reinfection and breakthrough infections.
Vaccines are still effective at staving off severe illness, he added, but they’re not as protective against BA.5 compared to other iterations of the virus.
“If you got your booster, let’s say, last November or December, you don’t have as much protection against this virus as you’d like.”
Jha added that it’s “absolutely critical” for those over 50 years of age who have not received a shot this year to get one as soon as possible. “It will offer a very high degree of protection.”
“We’ve got to keep building new generations of vaccines. We’ve got to make sure we’re — we have adequate treatments. We can get through this but it is not — if we take our eye off our ball, we’ve got to really stay focused.”
The country is in a better place now than it was at the start of the Biden administration, Jha acknowledged, but “we still have work to do.”
Last week, the White House held a teleconference to address the new, highly transmissible BA.5 subvariant.
“We are experiencing about 300 to 350 deaths a day. That is unacceptable. It’s too high,” Jha said at the briefing, in conversation with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky and top health advisor Anthony Fauci.
The omicron variant and its subvariants have been “particularly problematic” for public health, Fauci said.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have doubled since early May, Walensky reported, over 5,000 admissions per day.
The experts emphasized that even those with a full vaccine regimen, as well as those infected with earlier BA.1 or BA.2 subvariants, are still at risk for BA.4 and BA.5 infections.