(CMR) Pfizer/BioNTech said persons who got three doses of their COVID-19 vaccine which includes the booster shot, should be able to fight the Omicron variant as neutralizing antibodies had been observed one month after the third dose. Seeking the booster shot could be the best option, Pfizer said.
This is welcomed news for countries worldwide as the Omicron variant, first detected last month, has triggered global alarm about another surge in infections.
“The new data from Pfizer on vaccine effectiveness against Omicron is encouraging,” U.S. President Joe Biden tweeted on Wednesday. “Anyone who is eligible and has not been boosted should go get a booster today.”
BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin suggested that countries might consider shortening the period between second and third doses of the vaccine to combat the new variant, Reuters reported.
Countries such as Britain had brought the third shot forward to three months after the second shot, from six months previously.
“We believe this is the right way to go, particularly if the Omicron is now spreading further, to enable a better level of protection in the winter season,” Sahin said.
According to Reuters reports, Dr. Walter Orenstein, a professor at Vanderbilt and former director of the U.S. CDC's immunization programs, said he found the data encouraging because it suggests that the current vaccines are still usable against the Omicron.
“We may not have to change the vaccine,” he said. “We may be able to get by with the current vaccine, at least for repression of severe disease.”
The World Health Organization classified Omicron as a “variant of concern” but said there was no evidence to support the need for new vaccines.
Despite this Pfizer/BioNTech said their planned production of 4 billion doses of the Comirnaty vaccine in 2022 was not expected to change if an adapted vaccine was required. BioNTech said that even if an adapted vaccine was available in March, it would not be broadly available for some time, noting that perhaps 25 to 75 million doses of the new vaccine would be ready at first, Reuters reported.
Pfizer is also considering also testing two doses of an Omicron-specific vaccine in currently unvaccinated people.
According to Reuters, Pfizer and BioNTech's findings are broadly in line with a preliminary study published by researchers at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa on Tuesday, which said Omicron could partially evade protection from two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and suggested a third shot might help fend off infection.
There is no significant data yet on how the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and other vaccines hold up against the new variant; they are expected to release their own data soon.