BA.2 subvariant of omicron gradually gaining ground in Alaska

This chart tracks the prevalence of various COVID-19 variants. (Alaska Department of Health)

A subvariant of omicron has gradually become more widespread in Alaska in recent weeks.  

Speaking on Talk of Alaska Tuesday morning, Alaska chief epidemiologist Dr. Joe McLaughlin said the BA.2 variant is gaining ground across the country, including Alaska. 

“Probably about a quarter of the cases are BA.2 now in the U.S.,” McLaughlin said. “It’s a little bit higher in Alaska.”

The first Alaska case of BA.2 was detected in early January, according to state data. By mid-February, more than a third of Alaska cases were the BA.2 subvariant. McLaughlin said while the BA. 2 mutation can be spread more easily, it doesn’t appear to lead to more severe symptoms.  

“This strain is about 30 percent more transmissible than the BA.1 strain, but it’s not more virulent,” McLaughlin said. “And it doesn’t appear to be more capable of evading prior immunity through vaccination or prior infection.”  

McLaughlin said people who have already contracted the BA.1 subvariant of omicron have more immunity to BA.2. 

Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz, a Providence Medical Center physician who works for the state health department, said while the BA.2 subvariant is continuing to spread, vaccine manufacturers are taking note. 

“Currently, delta, omicron and even BA.2 are being worked at in a combo vaccine, looking towards the fall if needed,” Rabinowitz said. “So lots of exciting things happening in the vaccine world.” 

While the omicron variant led to a record number of COVID-19 cases in Alaska this winter, case counts and hospitalizations have been on a downward trend, currently sitting at about a tenth of the peak case count in January.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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