Omicron's Latest Strain: How BA.5 Affects Your Children

parent child mask

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In October 2022, the FDA authorized the updated bivalent boosters from Pfizer and Moderna for everyone ages 5 and older. These boosters provide protection against both the Omicron variant and the original strain of the virus. Children can receive these boosters two months after completing their primary series.

Key Takeaways

  • The BA.5 variant (along with its cousin, BA.4) currently makes up 80% of cases in the U.S. and is causing a rise in COVID-19 cases.
  • BA.5 is more likely than other variants to cause reinfections, including in children.
  • Experts agree that vaccines continue to prevent severe outcomes of COVID-19 in children, and recommend children ages 6 months and up be vaccinated.

The United States is experiencing yet another period of high COVID-19 prevalence. This current spike is being mostly driven by the BA.5 variant of Omicron. According to The White House COVID-19 Response Team, as of July 12th, the BA.4 and BA.5 variants made up 80% of the current COVID-19 cases, with BA.5 causing the bulk of infection.

The White House’s COVID-19 Response Team is warning that infections are rising and will continue to rise as we ride out this wave. Besides increased transmissibility, the BA.5 variant appears to be better at sidestepping prior immunity from infections and vaccines, meaning it has an increased ability to reinfect people, which may contribute to a higher infection rate.

Parents might be wondering what this new spike in infections will mean for their children. Experts help us break it all down for you.

What Symptoms of BA.5 Should I Look Out For?

The symptoms of BA.5 are similar to what we've generally seen with COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, which has caused milder illness in most cases than prior variants of COVID-19. “COVID-19 symptoms can be slightly different for all patients,” reminds Gemma Downham, MPH, epidemiologist and corporate director, infection prevention, at AtlantiCare. “However, common symptoms we are seeing with the currently circulating variants include headache, body aches, especially back and neck, fever, and fatigue.”

Vidya Mony, DO, pediatric infectious disease physician and epidemiologist at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, says in general, pediatricians are seeing fewer asymptomatic infections with the BA.5 variant as opposed to other Omicron variants. “We are seeing more fevers, sore throat, cough, runny nose, fatigue, and headache with this variant,” she says. As infections increase, pediatric hospitalizations are going up, says Dr. Mony, but it’s only been a slight increase, which is reassuring.

How Dangerous is BA.5 For Children?

Parents can take heart in knowing children generally don’t get very sick with COVID-19 and that should continue with this variant, says Anu Seshadri, MD, internist, pediatrician, and Plus Life Media's medical correspondent. That may also mean it can be easier to brush off COVID-19 symptoms and neglect to test or isolate your child.  

“Remember, children have milder symptoms most of the time compared to adults,” says Dr. Seshadri. “For example, they may have just a runny nose or they may have decreased appetite because they have a sore throat,” she describes. She wants parents to remember if there’s any suspicion of COVID-19, they should get their child tested.

It’s also important to remember although most children will experience a mild case of BA.5, as infections rise, the virus will reach more vulnerable children, including immunocompromised children and those with underlying conditions. For them, the virus may not be so mild, explains Downham. Thankfully, she says, vaccinations have been shown to be effective at preventing the most severe cases in children and offer important protection during this wave.

Dr. Mony agrees. She warns that this variant may be able to reinfect children at a higher rate than other variants, but that the majority of children who are getting sick enough to require hospital care are either high-risk or unvaccinated.

How Will BA.5 Affect Daycare, Camp, and School?

Besides concerns about infection, many parents could be worried about what the BA.5 surge may mean for their children’s various activities, such as daycare, camp, and school. Many parents have endured daycare/school closures and seemingly endless quarantines over the past few years. It’s been extremely disruptive and stressful for parents and children.

Fortunately, Dr. Seshadri doesn’t expect this wave will lead to as many closures as prior waves. “I do not think that schools, camps, daycares will be closed as this is still a milder variant, but wearing masks while in crowded spaces/indoors and increasing hygienic measures may be implemented,” she says.

As for whether mask mandates will return in light of this wave, experts agree this may happen in certain areas, but it’s unlikely to happen on a large scale. “It’s difficult to state if mask mandates will come back,” says Dr. Mony. “One would think that since the test positivity is so high in the community right now that we would bring back the mandates, but there is also a lot of mask fatigue/Covid fatigue.”

Dr. Mony explains that it will be up to each state and local health department to decide what’s best in terms of masking mandates and recommendations.

How Can I Protect My Family from BA.5?

“The best way to prevent illness with BA.5 is to make sure that everyone in your family is up to date with CDC recommended COVID-19 vaccines including booster shots,” says Downham. The COVID-19 vaccines have a strong track record of protecting children against severe cases of COVID-19 and are now approved and available for children aged 6 months and up. Children aged 5 and up can receive booster shots five months after they’ve completed their initial vaccine series.

Everyone needs to weigh their own personal risk as well as pay attention to local health advisories. During times of high transmission, it may make sense to wear masks in crowded indoor settings, says Downham. “Attending a large indoor wedding or concert, for example, increases chances of exposure during times of high community transmission,” she says. “To mitigate the risk, attendees could wear masks when indoors and in crowded settings.”

What This Means For You

Seeing headlines about another COVID-19 wave hitting the country—especially in the middle of summer break—is understandably stressful for parents. The good news is at this point in the pandemic, we all are aware of the common sense measures we can take to limit exposure and protect ourselves and our families from serious outcomes, including staying up to date on vaccines and masking indoors during times of high transmission.

If you have any further questions or concerns about what the BA.5 variant means for your child, please reach out to your pediatrician.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Bivalent COVID-19 Vaccines for Use as a Booster Dose in Younger Age Groups.

  2. The White House. Fact sheet: Biden administration outlines strategy to manage BA.5.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccination for children.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Omicron variant: What you need to know.

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Pediatric COVID-19 hospitalizations by state.

  6. Shi DS, Whitaker M, Marks KJ, et al. Hospitalizations of children aged 5–11 years with laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 — COVID-NET, 14 states, March 2020–February 2022. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2022;71:574-581. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7116e1

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC strengthens recommendations and expands eligibility for COVID-19 booster shots.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.