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New variants add challenges to latest COVID-19 wave

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Matt Hoffman/KPBS
Chula Vista resident Giovanna Huerta puts a swab up her nose for a COVID-19 test.

Coronavirus cases have tripled in San Diego between May and June. The latest slew of cases have been dominated by newer omicron "subvariants," led by the "subvariant" known as BA.2.12.1. But newer versions are already starting to take hold across the country, which could complicate travel and other social activity during the summer season.

Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, joined KPBS Midday Edition to talk about what is known about the new variants taking hold in the community.

"We're in the midst of this countrywide omicron subvariant where the country's dominant variant is so-called BA.2.12.1, and we're transitioning to other variants called BA 4 and BA 5. So right now it's dynamic." Topol said. "The whole country has to brace for yet another one of these omicron, hyper-transmissible, very worrisome variants because they keep progressively challenging our immune response, even for people who have had multiple vaccine shots."

Even in the midst of the worrisome variants Topol said the scientific achievements that have come out of the pandemic are a reason to be optimistic. He said the mRNA technology used in coronavirus vaccines could ultimately lead to breakthroughs in other diseases like cancer, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis.

"We've learned how to deliver a genetic message safely and it's just a platform which is going to lead to dividends for decades to come. It's really fantastic," Topol said.