Officials from Pfizer and BioNTech, the firms that produced the very first coronavirus vaccine, said that three inoculations of their product “neutralized” the omicron variant in new laboratory tests.
They then announced that they could deliver a reformulated vaccine in March of 2022 if that becomes needed in order to fight the new variant.
“The first line of defence, with two doses of vaccination, might be compromised and three doses of vaccination are required to restore protection,” explained BioNTech Chief Medical Officer Ozlem Tuereci in the Wednesday press conference. However, he stated that the two doses many millions of people have now had all over the world may still protect against severe forms of the disease.
Just the two doses of the Pfizer product resulted in significantly lower neutralizing antibodies, Tierce stated, but a third dose was exponentially more effective, upping that by a factor of 25.
The BioNTech and Pfizer officials are the first manufacturers of any coronavirus vaccine to speak officially regarding how their vaccine worked against the Omicron mutation of the virus.
Using samples of blood taken approximately one month after subjects obtained their booster shot, the Omicron variant was observed as being neutralized nearly as effectively as the original two doses worked against the original strain of the virus that was first identified in China.
Pfizer and BioNTech used a virus that they had bio-engineered to have the hallmark mutations of Omicron, known as a pseudovirus. The subjects’ blood samples were collected either three weeks after their second vaccine dose, or one month after a third.
Ugur Sahin, the CEO of BioNTech, the small German startup that partnered with the pharma giant Pfizer in producing the first vaccine used around the world, told reporters today that countries might consider shortening the time period between administration of the second and third doses of the vaccine to best fight against the effects of the Omicron mutation.
Sahin recounted the recent policy of some nations, including Great Britain, to bring administration of the third shot of vaccine forward to three months after individuals have received their second dose.
This represents a halving of the previous time between the second and third doses, which had been six months.
“We believe this is the right way to go particularly if the Omicron is now spreading further, to enable a better level of protection in the winter season,” he stated, adding “The companies believe that vaccinated individuals may still be protected against severe forms of the disease.”
Cases of the omicron variant have now been detected all over the world, from its first origin point in South Africa to Europe, the Americas and Japan. Although there have been no deaths reported from patients suffering from this variant, the mutation has raised alarm, causing some countries, including Japan, to close their borders once again to all foreigners.
Although the World Health Organization called Omicron a “variant of concern” on November 26, it noted that at this point there was no evidence calling for a completely new vaccine that would be specifically created to fight the variant and/or its mutations.
Naturally, however, pharmaceutical companies wanted to know if their products, so painstakingly produced over the last year, would work against Omicron; they went to work as early as November 25 toward this goal, creating studies to see how the existing inoculations would tackle the new mutation.
The Pfizer and BioNTech officials stated that their expected production of four billion doses of the Comirnaty coronavirus vaccine during all of next year would not be expected to see any adjustments if a specially-adapted vaccine became needed.
The findings announced by the firms for the most part reflect the results of a study that was published by researchers from the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa yesterday. That study found that Omicron could evade the protection, at least in part, from two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine — but suggested that a third inoculation might very well help defend against infection.
Naturally, all the research currently being done on Omicron is still in very early stages.
The University Hospital Frankfurt in Germany launched a study which found that the body’s ability to mount an effective response to Omicron in those who had three doses was approximately 37 times lower than the response of three doses against the Delta variant.
As had been expected, researchers note that the vast majority of surface structures on the Omicron spike protein which is targeted by the body’s own T-cells, which are produced after vaccination, are not affected by Omicron’s mutations, the German scientists stated.
T-cells are the specialized immune response cells that world alongside antibodies; they are believed to help the body fight against severe diseases by attacking cells that have become infected.
As of now, there is no information regarding how the vaccines from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or other drug companies perform against the Omicron; data on these products is expected to be released within a few weeks from now, according to reports.