The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine could be significantly less effective against the newly discovered Omicron variant that it was against previous strains of the virus.
Researchers at the African Health Research Institute found that there are forty times less antibodies in Pfizer vaccine recipients that can fight Omicron than there are for other variants.
The pre-print study, made available Tuesday pending peer-review, implies that the vaccine could be less effective against the strain detected last month in South Africa.
Conclusions from it cannot yet be drawn, though, and researchers are not yet sure how much more likely the Omicron variant is to cause infection in a vaccinated person than other strains are.
The new variant has been detected in at least 19 U.S. states and nearly 50 countries worldwide as of Tuesday night, and is feared to be the most contagious strain of the virus yet.
Researchers at the African Health Research Institute found the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has forty times fewer antibodies capable of fighting the Omicron variant as it has against other strains of the virus
Researchers found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has forty times fewer antibodies capable of fighting the Omicron variant as it has against other strains of the virus
Researchers analyzed the blood samples, and searched for antibodies that had the ability to prevent infection from the new mutant strain.
While the Pfizer vaccine is largely effective against other strains of Covid, including the Delta variant, the many mutations of the Omicron variant seem to be able to evade many of its antibodies.
The study does not give any information on how booster shots, which more than 45 million Americans have received so far, affect a person’s ability to avoid infection.
Omicron had health officials on high alert from the moment it was discovered last month in South Africa.
The variant was detected in more than 70 people in the nation, many of which were fully vaccinated.
It has over 50 mutations, more than any other strain of the virus, including 30 on its spike protein, the part of the virus that the vaccines target.
South African officials have also reported that the variant has the ability to bypass natural immunity some people have through previous Covid infection.
Vaccine manufacturers in America worked quickly to react to the news of the new variant, with BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson both announcing they were working on an Omicron specific vaccine.
Moderna also said it is working on a booster shot for the variant and it could be available as early as March pending regulatory approval.
Currently, 60 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated against Covid, a milestone the nation reached on Tuesday.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, told AFP on Tuesday that after judging data from South Africa – which is currently undergoing a massive Covid surge – he believes this variant is more infectious, but that it does not cause cases for severe than that of the Delta variant.
Other experts, like researchers at BioNTech, are still investigating the variant, and plan to reveal findings about the Omicron – and how it interacts with the vaccines – in the near future.