Preliminary laboratory studies demonstrate that three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech were able to neutralise the omicron variant. Blood samples were collected from people one month after they had their booster shots (i.e. 3rd dose of the COVID-19 vaccine). Data from laboratory studies of these samples suggests that the omicron variant can be neutralised to levels that are ‘comparable to those observed for the wild-type (i.e. original virus strain) after 2 doses’.
On the other hand, 2 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine ‘showed significantly reduced neutralisation titres against the omicron variant compared to the wild-type’. This suggests that 2 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech may be insufficient in protecting against infection with the omicron variant.
However, as majority of the targets of the vaccine-induced T cells are not affected by the spike mutations of the omicron variant, Pfizer-BioNTech believe that vaccinated individuals may still be protected against severe form of COVID-19 infection. Close monitoring of the real world effectiveness are currently still ongoing.
“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine,” said Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer.
He also added that the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be to ensure as many people as possible are ‘fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster’.
Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and Co-Founder of BioNTech added: “Our preliminary, first dataset indicate that a third dose could still offer a sufficient level of protection from disease of any severity caused by the Omicron variant.”. He also added that they are continually working on an adapted vaccine which will ‘help to induce a high level of protection against Omicron-induced COVID-19 disease as well as a prolonged protection compared to the current vaccine’.
Omicron variant-specific COVID-19 vaccine?
On 25 Nov, the company announced that they have started to develop an Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine. The development will continue as planned as data from laboratory studies and real-world effectiveness continue to come in. The company has also said that the first batches of the omicron-specific vaccine can be ‘produced and are planned to be ready for deliveries within 100 days, pending regulatory approval.’
Watch what the experts from Singapore, Dr Leong Hoe Nam and Dr Ling Li Min, have to say about the omicron variant, in an exclusive interview with Medical Channel Asia: