Research suggests BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine may be less effective against Omicron

The BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine may be less effective against Omicron than previous strains of coronavirus while still providing some degree of protection, according to a South African study, according to a study in South Africa. a brief, if incomplete, overview of how injections deal with the new variant.

Researchers from the African Institute for Health Research reported that the vaccine’s loss of immune protection was “widespread but incomplete” in first published study was pitted against Omicron.

The researchers took 14 plasma samples from 12 participants who had received two doses of BioNTech/Pfizer jab, and tested the plasma’s ability to neutralize Omicron.

Lab experiments showed that Omicron infection resulted in a 41-fold reduction in virus-blocking antibodies compared with the virus strain originally discovered in Wuhan nearly two years ago.

Omicron also escapes the “much more extensive” antibody neutralization process[ly]“Compared to the Beta variant that previously prevailed in South Africa, the study’s authors found.

However, Alex Sigal, research leader at the Durban-based lab, said that despite the significant drop in antibody production, Omicron did not completely evade the vaccine.

In a much more positive finding, the researchers reported that people who had previously been infected with Covid-19 in addition to receiving the dual vaccines retained “relatively high levels of protective antibodies”. They added that that “potentially offers protection from severe disease in Omicron infections”.

The preliminary results follow the rapid spread of the Omicron variant since it was first identified in South Africa in late November, raising concerns among health professionals that it could dodge Avoid existing vaccines.

Ugur Sahin, BioNTech’s chief executive officer, responded to the South African research publication by saying the company expects to publish its own data later this week. “I will be more optimistic,” he told NBC.

Eric Topol, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, said the results suggest that vaccine manufacturers will likely have to develop a new type of Omicron-specific booster.

“It was as we expected, with many breakthrough cases of vaccine reported with Omicron,” he added.

Danny Altmann, professor of immunology at Imperial College London, said the South African study had raised hope that “people who are well-promoted are generally safe”.

According to Altmann, the study found that people who had received two previous injections were also infected “all within the safe zone”.

Jacob Glanville, a computational immunologist and founder of the American therapy company Centivax, says research shows that most people who get the double vaccine will be susceptible to Omicron infections.

“Reason [public health officials] is asking people to push is because. . . [double-vaccinated] people will have some protective antibodies but most won’t have enough to usefully neutralize the virus,” he added.

However, Glanville added that the T cells, which target a broader part of the virus rather than antibodies, would allow those vaccinated twice to “maintain protection against severe disease”.

Morgan Stanley said the Africa Research Institute data shows that the vaccine’s effectiveness drops significantly to less than 50% for symptomatic disease with Omicron.

“While we await more data from Moderna and Pfizer, we believe the likelihood of a specific boost variant emerges,” said Matthew Harrison, an analyst at Morgan Stanley.

Last week, Stéphane Bancel, chief executive officer of Moderna, warning that the new variant will likely lead to a “reduced material” in the effectiveness of the vaccine.

Separately, researchers at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute say they have observed “particularly variable” neutralization for Omicrons, with some samples “virtually lost” and some samples showed significantly more.

Ben Murrell, one of the investigators, said the average level of lapses was “well below scary,” which would make Omicron worse than Delta but “not as severe as we expected.” “. The researchers used a mock virus designed to look like the new strain in their experiments.

They say that the commonality between the studies in South Africa and Sweden is that “neutrality was not completely lost for all samples, i.e. positive”.

Neutralization tests cannot perfectly predict whether a vaccine will be effective. Earlier on Tuesday, Kate O’Brien, head of vaccines at the World Health Organization, said: “We already know that the performance of antibodies against variants is informative.” But more complete studies on effectiveness won’t be complete for some time. .

Additional reporting by Peter Wells in New York

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