Pfizer says the vaccine booster dose protects against the omicron variant

A booster dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine appears to provide strong protection against the omicron variant, the companies announced on Wednesday.

They said that results from laboratory studies show that a third dose of their vaccine gives a similar level of neutralizing antibodies to omicron, compared to two doses of the original coronavirus and other variants that have emerged.

Blood samples from those who only received the primary series of the vaccine saw an average of 25-fold increase in antibodies to the new variant. This may indicate that two doses of the vaccine may not be sufficient to protect against omicron infection, although they may still prevent serious illness, the companies said.

“If these data hold, then these are good signs,”[ads1]; said Ali Ellebedy, an associate professor of pathology and immunology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “This means that at least fully vaccinated individuals … are likely to be protected from serious illness.”

As the highly mutated omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, spreads across the globe, researchers are trying to figure out how the available vaccines will work against it.

“Three doses of omicron almost equals the two doses we had against the … original variant,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Wednesday on NBC’s “TODAY” show.

“You may have to go and get the third booster faster, and that is something that the health authorities should consider very carefully and make their recommendations,” he added. “But it’s clear having two doses compared to nothing protects you much better than having nothing.”

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Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages all adults 18 years and older to receive a booster injection 6 months after their first Pfizer or Moderna series or two months after a single dose of Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The vaccine companies said the results are preliminary. The findings were described in a press release, and the complete data have not yet been made available for other researchers to investigate.

But laboratory studies are just one part of the puzzle. Other data are also needed to determine if a new vaccine is needed. Researchers need to understand how transmissible the omicron variant is as well as how sick it makes people (early data suggest that it is more contagious than the delta variant, but causes milder disease).

The results from Pfizer-BioNTech are the first to be announced by vaccine manufacturers.

According to the press release, blood samples were tested from people who had received either two or three doses of the vaccine. The samples were taken three weeks after the second dose or one month after the booster.

On Tuesday, a research institute in South Africa also published laboratory results on how the Pfizer vaccine performed against omicron, and shows about a forty-fold reduction in vaccine-induced antibodies that can neutralize the new variant. However, that study did not look at booster shots.

On November 25, the vaccine companies started developing an omicron-specific vaccine. The first batches of the vaccine can be produced and ready for delivery in about 100 days, subject to approval by federal regulators, Pfizer has said.

“If we need a new vaccine, these tests tell me that we will be able to have a very good one if we need one against omicron, because we are really able to make some adjustments to give far higher results,” in Bourla.

“The current booster will maintain protection, but if we need one, we will make one and we will have it by March,” he said.

Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are expected to release laboratory results from the omicron variant in the coming days. Academic research institutions also look at how well the vaccine works against omicron.

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Elisha Fieldstadt contributed.

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