Pfizer-BioNTech Says Booster Protects Against Omicron

Pfizer BioNTech has today announced that the early results from studies investigating how the vaccine protects against Omicron variant, which is rapidly spreading in the world, were published. According to Pfizer-BioNTech, the Omicron variant can be neutralized by adding an additional booster to their two-dose vaccination regimen in laboratory studies.

The companies stated in a press release that although two doses COVID-19 vaccine have decreased Omicron protection, booster doses significantly increase that protection. A booster dose of vaccine showed 25 times more neutralizing antibodies to Omicron in blood samples than the same amount found in serum taken from only two people. The booster increased the levels of virus-fighting antibodies to the same level as the two previous doses. After a booster, Omicron was also able to produce more durable immune responses that involved T cells.
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While preliminary findings may not be conclusive, they are still encouraging. They suggest that current vaccines can still protect against Omicron. Researchers still don’t know how dangerous Omicron is—they continue to study how transmissible the variant is, as well as whether it causes more severe disease or evades the protection provided by vaccines. They expect to see the results of these studies soon. Until then, these findings hint that the existing vaccines can still thwart Omicron—as long as people receive a booster dose. The early results showed that two doses alone aren’t sufficient; after two doses, the immune system generated significantly lower levels of antibodies that could neutralize Omicron.

“The data very clearly indicate the value of a third dose,” BioNTech CEO and co-founder Uger Sahin said during a briefing discussing the results. “With the data now coming on the Omicron variant, it is very clear that our vaccine for the Omicron variant should be a three-dose vaccine. Best [strategy]A booster shot is a good idea to protect yourself. It will improve your levels of antibodies. [and]T cell levels that are higher than the current circulating delta can be correlated to better protection [variant] and which we believe will also translate to better protection against the Omicron variant.”

However, there are caveats to the findings. These studies were not done with Omicron-derived live viruses, but rather with lab-created versions of them. While it contained the same mutations, it’s still a proxy for the actual variant virus. Sahin stated that researchers will conduct similar studies using live Omicron samples over the next few weeks.

While it’s not clear exactly how the current vaccines continue to protect against new variants like Omicron, immunologists say that the quality of antibodies generated against viruses continues to evolve and improve with each exposure, or vaccine dose. This means that older versions of viruses could still be protected by earlier doses.

Pfizer, BioNTech and other vaccine manufacturers are still working on a vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant. The mRNA technology behind Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot is flexible enough that scientists expect to have the new vaccine created in about six weeks, and tested a few months after that. BioNTech expects the first batches of an Omicron vaccine will be available by March, if it’s needed and authorized by regulators.

“The production process itself will stay the same,” Sierk Poetting, chief operating officer at BioNTech, said at the briefing about manufacturing a potential Omicron vaccine. “The only thing that will change is the … blueprint of the new variant. Apart from that, all the production steps, the mRNA, the lipid formulation, the fill and finish, will be exactly the same.”


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