How the BA.2 Subvariant Affects Kids

child COVID test

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Key Takeaways

  • The BA.2 subvariant of Omicron is similar to other versions of Omicron, but is more contagious
  • BA.2 does not appear to cause more severe disease that other Omicron variants
  • The best way to protect your children from BA.2 is through vaccination 

After the winter Omicron wave, many parents felt like things were finally starting to get better. Unfortunately, with the BA.2 Omicron subvariant spreading around the globe, it seems like, once again, the "return to normal" might not be as straightforward as parents hoped for.

BA.2 is a sublineage of Omicron, the COVID variant that caused a massive spike in COVID infections in the United States during December 2021 and January 2022. As of March 29th, BA.2 accounted for more than half of Omicron infections in the United States.The BA.2 subvariant is similar to other versions of Omicron, including BA.1 and BA1.1. The distinct difference is that BA.2 appears to be more contagious, explains Beth Oller, MD, a family physician in Stockton, Kans. who specializes in public health, pediatrics and women’s health.

“The BA.2 variant does show signs of being more transmissible or spreading more quickly,” Dr. Oller explains. “Best estimates show that the BA.2 variant is 30 to 60% more contagious than the original Omicron variant, BA.1.”

BA.2’s increased transmissibility might mean that it could cause a spike in infections, but thankfully, it doesn’t appear to make people sicker than other lineages of Omicron did. For example, new research out of Denmark did not show higher rates of hospitalization or severe disease.

Not only that, but our vaccines are still effective against hospitalization and death when it comes to BA.2, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  Jennifer A. Horney, PhD, MPH, CPH, founding director and professor of epidemiology at University of Delaware, says that prior infection with other sublineages of Omicron should also offer some protection against a BA.2 infection.

“Having been infected with BA.1 recently appears to provide good protection against infection with BA.2, so parents can feel a bit more secure if their kids had a confirmed case of COVID around the holidays,” says Horney. A Danish study of 1.8 million people found fewer than 50 reinfections of BA.2 after a BA.1 infection.

What Are the Symptoms of BA.2 in Kids?

It’s not clear how BA.2 symptoms in kids differ from other variants of COVID, including other lineages of Omicron. What we know so far is that BA.2 symptoms are similar to other COVID symptoms, Dr. Oller says, and can include signs like fever, sore throat, cough, headache, fatigue, and digestive upset.

What’s most important is knowing when your child’s symptoms might require a call or visit to the doctor. Symptoms that are cause for concern include a child who is difficult to wake, having trouble breathing, or can’t keep any fluids down for several hours, says. Dr. Oller.

“I tell parents to watch for the same things I would look for with any illness in their children when deciding whether or not to go to the ER,” Dr. Oller advises. “If your parent-radar is going off and something about your child’s condition is making you very nervous, go in.”

How Can Parents Protect Their Kids From BA.2?

Although most places in the U.S. no longer have mask mandates, including schools, Dr. Oller recommends resuming masking in certain circumstances. “If there is a surge in your area, I would make the same recommendation as in any surge—avoid large gatherings, mask if indoors around a large group of people, and look closely at your activities to see if they are likely to increase your risk of exposure,” she says.

Horney also urges all parents to get their eligible kids vaccinated. As of now, children ages 5 and up are eligible for vaccination, yet show that only 34.5% of kids aged 5 to 11 and 68.5% of 12- to 17 year-olds are fully vaccinated.

Although vaccine effectiveness wanes over time, getting vaccinated decreases the likelihood of hospitalization. Research released by the CDC found that two doses of vaccine in kids and teens reduced hospital visits by 73 to 94%. “Data are just starting to come out on the ‘real world’ effectiveness of the vaccines against the original Omicron variant,” says Horney. “Based on the data available, vaccination did protect kids ages 12 to 17—who were eligible for vaccine long before the 5- to 11-year-olds—from hospitalization.”

If you have an older child was vaccinated but not boosted, you should consider that, too. “The evidence is strong that the third shot made a big difference in protecting them from infection from Omicron,” says Horney.

What This Means For You

The pandemic has been so hard for parents and children and it may seem like there is never a break from bad news. Although BA.2 has some concerning characteristics, particularly its increased contagiousness, you can take heart in knowing that both prior infection and vaccination should offer your child some protection. Should BA.2 cause an uptick in cases in your area, you can choose to add in more mitigation measures, such as masks. If you have any particular concerns about what BA.2 means for your child, contact their pediatrician.

10 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. World Health Organization. Statement on Omicron sublineage BA.2.

  2. Klein N, Stockwell M, Demarco M, et al. Effectiveness of COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 mRNA vaccination in preventing COVID-19–associated emergency department and urgent care encounters and hospitalizations among nonimmunocompromised children and adolescents aged 5–17 years — VISION Network, 10 States, April 2021–January 2022. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2022;71(9);352–358.

  3. Reuters. A third of U.S. COVID now caused by Omicron BA.2 as overall cases fall.

  4. Reuters. Omicron sub-variant BA.2 accounts for about 55% of COVID variants in U.S. - CDC.

  5. World Health Organization. Weekly epidemiological update on COVID-19 - 15 February 2022.

  6. Fonager J, Bennedbæk M, Bager P, et al. Molecular epidemiology of the SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron BA.2 sub-lineage in Denmark, 29 November 2021 to 2 January 2022. Eurosurveillance. 2022;27(10).

  7. Stegger M, Edslev SM, Sieber RN, et al. Occurrence and significance of Omicron BA.1 infection followed by BA.2 reinfection. medRxiv. 2022;22271112. doi:10.1101/2022.02.19.22271112

  8. Cleveland Clinic. COVID-19 symptoms in kids.

  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19 vaccination and case trends by age group, United States.

  10. Klein N, Stockwell M, Demarco M, et al. Effectiveness of COVID-19 Pfizer-BioNTech BNT162b2 mRNA Vaccination in Preventing COVID-19–Associated Emergency Department and Urgent Care Encounters and Hospitalizations Among Nonimmunocompromised Children and Adolescents Aged 5–17 Years — VISION Network, 10 States, April 2021–January 2022. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 2022;71(9);352–358.

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.