The new Covid variant Omicron can moderately evade the protection provided via two doses of Pfizer and partner BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine according to the research head of a laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa on Tuesday.
The study states that blood from people who had received two doses of the vaccine and had a prior infection was mostly able to neutralize the variant, which shows that booster doses of the vaccine could aid in fending off infection.
Alex Sigal, a professor at the Africa Health Research Institute, posted on Twitter there was “a very large drop” in the neutralization of the Omicron variant relative to an earlier strain of COVID-19.
The lab tested blood from a sample of 12 people who had been vaccinated with double doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, according to a manuscript posted on the website for his lab.
The manuscript showed that blood from five out of six people who had been vaccinated as well as previously infected with COVID-19 still neutralized the Omicron variant.
Sigal posted on Twitter, “These results are better than I expected. The more antibodies you got, the more chance you’ll be protected from Omicron”.
He said the lab had not tested the variant against blood from people who had received a booster dose, because they are not available in South Africa yet.
According to the manuscript, the lab observed a 41-fold decline in levels of neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant.
Sigal said on Twitter that figure is likely going to be adjusted after the lab runs more experiments.
While neutralizing antibodies are an indicator of the body’s immune response, scientists are of the view that other kinds of cells such as B-cells and T-cells also are stimulated by the vaccines and help protect against the effects of the coronavirus.
The initial data does not indicate that the vaccine is less able to prevent severe illness or death. While lab tests are underway, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said last week “we think it’s likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron”.
The Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa last month, has triggered alarms globally of another surge in infections, with more than two dozen countries from Japan to the United States reporting cases.
The World Health Organization classified it on Nov. 26 as a “variant of concern,” but said there was no evidence to support the need for new vaccines specifically designed to tackle the Omicron variant with its many mutations. read more
There is no significant data yet on how vaccines from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and other drugmakers hold up against the new variant. All the manufacturers, including Pfizer and BioNTech, are expected to release their own data within weeks.
BioNTech’s Sahin told NBC News on Tuesday that the drugmaker has data coming on Wednesday or Thursday related to the new variant.
Umer Raffat, an analyst for Evercore ISI, cautioned against reading too much into a single study, noting there has been significant variability in measuring declines in antibody levels in previous lab studies.
Raffat added, “Let’s wait for additional studies to draw a mosaic”.