Pfizer vaccine may be less effective against omicron, early lab data finds

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According to preliminary data from South Africa posted on Tuesday, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine appears to be less effective against the heavily mutated Omicron variant.

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Researchers at the Africa Health Research Institute found that there was a nearly forty-fold reduction in vaccine-induced antibodies that can neutralize the new variant, which has already been detected in several countries and at least 19 states across the United States.

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According to the researchers, Omicron appears to be even more efficient at developing the antibodies generated by the Pfizer vaccine than the beta version, which was also first identified in South Africa. Beta has demonstrated a threefold reduction in neutrality, they wrote.

BioNTech CEO Dr. Uur Sahin told Granthshala News on Tuesday that the drugmaker has data on the new version coming Wednesday or Thursday.

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“I would be more optimistic,” he said.

There are limitations to the South African laboratory study, which was posted online on a preprint server and has not yet been peer-reviewed. The research is based on blood samples from 12 patients who were vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine but did not receive a booster shot. The decline in neutralizing antibodies found in blood samples may not reflect how the variant might behave in a real-world setting.

Alex Sigal, a South Africa-based virologist and lead author of the study, wrote in a tweet Tuesday that results could change as researchers conduct more experiments. Other research institutions around the world, as well as vaccine manufacturers, are conducting laboratory studies to see how vaccines against the Omicron variant stack up.

Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine specialist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said the drop in antibodies may not be a clear indicator of whether the variant may evade protection against serious disease.

“It can only be answered in a real-world study because when you’re looking at neutralizing antibodies, you’re only looking at one component of the immune system,” he said, including memory B cells and T cells. also play an important role. Role.

If the study is “predictive,” and the version is found to outweigh the protection provided by vaccination in the real world, people should get a booster shot of an omicron-specific vaccine, Offit said.

The World Health Organization and other top scientists previously warned that the new variant, which has some 50 mutations, could potentially evade the protection provided by vaccination or natural infection. The Biden administration is urging every eligible American to get a booster shot amid the threat of new strains and the continuing spread of the Delta variant.

Vaccine manufacturers have also said they are developing omicron-specific shots if needed. Pfizer-BioNtech has said they can develop a variant-specific vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days, while Moderna has it within 90 days to test a new candidate. can proceed. Johnson & Johnson said it is working on a modified vaccine and will advance it as needed.

In the document posted online, the researchers write that antibodies produced by a combination of natural infection and vaccination may be enough to protect against the worst outcomes from the new strain.

“Previous infection, followed by vaccination or booster, is likely to increase neutralization levels and omicron infection has the potential to provide protection against severe disease,” he said.

Before the data was posted on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser, said it was still too early to know whether the variant causes more severe disease, although initial reports suggest it may cause milder illness. could be the reason.

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