The Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of SARS-CoV-2 have proven to be stealthier at evading people’s immune defences than all of their predecessors.
But recent research shows that previous infection with an older variant (such as Alpha, Beta or Delta) offers some protection against reinfection with BA.4 or BA.5, and that a prior Omicron infection is substantially more effective. That was the conclusion of a study that evaluated all of Qatar’s COVID-19 cases since the wave of BA.4 and BA.5 infections began1.
The work, which was posted on the medRxiv preprint server on 12 July and has not yet been peer reviewed, feeds into broader research on “how different immunities combine with each other”, says study co-author Laith Abu-Raddad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar in Doha.
Everyone has a different immune history, because people have received different combinations of COVID-19 vaccines and been infected with assorted variants during the course of the pandemic. “Different histories equip people with different immunity against upcoming infection,” says Abu-Raddad. Knowing how these diverse immune responses interact inside a person will be “very important for the future of the pandemic”, he adds.
To see how much protection previous infection offers against the two Omicron subvariants, Abu-Raddad and colleagues analysed COVID-19 cases recorded in Qatar between 7 May this year — when BA.4 and BA.5 first entered the country — and 4 July. They looked at the number of people known to have been infected previously who tested positive or negative for COVID-19, and identified which infections were caused by BA.4 or BA.5 by examining positive test samples to see whether they contained a protein that these subvariants lack.