Pfizer vaccine not as effective against Omicron variant

by mcardinal

Lauren Dempsey, MS in Biomedicine and Law, RN, FISM News 


This week the results from a very small study were released showing that the Omicron variant may reduce the antibodies in individuals who have received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, creating further questions over the efficacy of the vaccine.

Though the results of the study have not yet been peer-reviewed, researchers have expressed a sense of urgency to publish the data due to the pandemic. 

Professor Alex Sigal and a team of researchers from the Africa Health Research Institute evaluated blood samples of 12 people who were previously vaccinated and looked at how effective the vaccine-induced antibodies were at preventing the new variant from infecting cells. What they found was a significant reduction in the vaccines ability to fight the variant when compared to the original and subsequent variants of the virus.

Scientists performed the research by growing the virus in a human lung cell line and evaluating if the virus can be neutralized.  Researchers suggest that a third dose of the vaccine should be administered to improve immunity and increase antibodies, while also suggesting that individuals with natural immunity could possibly benefit from vaccination. 

In a joint statement with BioNTech, Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO said, “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.” Bourla added that “ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

As researchers scramble to determine how transmissible and deadly the new variant may be, Pfizer could have a newly formulated vaccine made specific to the Omicron variant ready for distribution by March 2022. 

According to the CDC the current “COVID-19 booster shots are the same formulation as the current COVID-19 vaccines.” However, vaccination has shown to provide limited protection and does not prevent the spread of the virus, which is a concern of the Omicron variant as well. Experts fear that this variant of the virus may be more transmissible, and the CDC has cautioned that “anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if they are vaccinated or don’t have symptoms.” 

In the U.S. there have been 43 reported cases of the Omicron variant in 19 stats as of Wednesday and according to CDC director Rochelle Walensky more than three- quarters of those infected has been vaccinated and one-third have had their booster shots. 

While there is increased concern over the new variant, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, chief scientist at the WHO warns against panicking. Swaminathan told Reuters, “We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago.” The Delta variant continues to be the dominate strain and accounts for 99% of COVID-19 infections in the U.S. and around the globe.

Additionally, there has been multiple reports that Omicron has, at least initially, proven to be a less severe strain, resulting in less hospitalizations and death than previous strains.