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Three doses of Pfizer jab can ‘neutralise’ Omicron variant, lab test shows

Three shots of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine has been shown to generate a neutralising effect against the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test.

The vaccine manufacturers released their first joint statement regarding the likely efficacy of their shot against Omicron on Wednesday.

They claimed that two vaccine doses resulted in significantly lower neutralising antibodies, but that a third dose increased the neutralising antibodies by a factor of 25.

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The variant was first detected in South Africa
Image: The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa

If needed, they can deliver a vaccine specifically for Omicron by March 2022, they added.

The research found that blood obtained from people that had their third booster shot a month ago neutralised the Omicron variant about as effectively as blood after two doses fought off the original virus – which was first identified in China.

“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,” said Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla.

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“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.”

BioNTech boss Ugur Sahin added that the latest data indicates that a third dose “could still offer a sufficient level of protection from disease of any severity caused by the Omicron variant”.

He continued: “Broad vaccination and booster campaigns around the world could help us to better protect people everywhere and to get through the winter season.”

Omicron may be more infectious – but do we need to worry if it causes less severe disease?

Shoppers wear masks in Canterbury, Kent, as further measures to contain the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant are enforced. Picture date: Tuesday November 30, 2021.
Image: Shoppers wear masks in Kent as further measures to contain the spread of Omicron are enforced

Omicron concerns

The Omicron strain was first detected in southern Africa last month, triggering alarms around the world of another surge in infections.

More than two dozen countries from Japan to the US have reported cases.

Last month, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified Omicron as a “variant of concern,” but said there was no evidence to support the need for new vaccines specifically designed to tackle it, despite its many mutations.

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The new strain sparked fears that existing COVID-19 vaccines and treatments could be less effective against it.

The latest findings from Pfizer-BioNTech are broadly in line with a preliminary study published by researchers South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases this week, which suggested Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death.

However, a lab analysis at the university hospital of Frankfurt, Germany, discovered a reduced antibody response to Omicron even after three doses.

What other vaccine manufacturers are saying

Moderna’s Stephane Bancel has warned that the current vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant as they were against the original strain.

The US company has said a new vaccine tailored for Omicron should be available by March next year.

Meanwhile, Johnson & Johnson said it was testing blood serum from participants in various trials to look for neutralising activity against Omicron, as well as pursuing a specific vaccine against the strain.

AstraZeneca said it was examining the impact of Omicron on its jab, which was developed with Oxford University, as well as its antibody cocktail, saying it was hopeful its combination drug would retain efficacy.