Vaccines developed to fight the original COVID-19 virus should still protect people against the omicron variant, the World Health Organization said Wednesday.
While the variant is believed to be more contagious than other variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, the WHO’s emergencies director, Dr. Mike Ryan, said there was no sign omicron would be able to evade vaccines better than other variants.
According to the WHO, lab tests have suggested that the variant could partially evade two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, though the company announced Wednesday that its tests have shown that the two-dose regimen plus a booster dose can “neutralize” the variant.
“We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalization, and there’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t be so” for omicron, Ryan told Agence France-Presse news agency.
The new South African study found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may result in up to 40 times fewer neutralizing antibodies against omicron than against the original COVID-19 virus strain, the BBC reported. The study has not yet been peer reviewed.
Professor Alex Sigal, a virus expert at the Africa Health Research Institute, who led the research, told the BBC that omicron’s ability to evade vaccines is “incomplete,” meaning vaccines are at least somewhat effective against the new variant.
Vaccination, combined with a previous infection, could be effective against omicron, Sigal said, and boosters on top of that bring a significant benefit.
Research has shown that while omicron may be more contagious, so far it has been shown to be less likely to be severe, particularly for those who have been vaccinated.
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