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J & J Booster Highly Effective in Preventing Omicron Hospitalizations

Omicron
People line up to be tested for the original strain of the coronavirus in Colorado in March of 2020. Doctors in South Africa undertook a recent study that shows the J & J booster shot is very effective at minimizing hospitalizations for the Omicron variant. Photo by Michael Ciaglo / CDC.gov

A new South African study shows that the J & J booster shot is effective at minimizing hospitalizations associated with the Omicron variation of the virus.

The study showed that the second shot of the Johnson & Johnson product proved to be 84% effective in preventing hospitalizations in health care workers in South Africa who became infected with the Omicron variant from their places of work, the researchers stated.

This was not part of a laboratory trial but the results from a real-world study, based on 69,092 health care workers who received a second dose between November 15 and December 20, while the Omicron variant was surging all over the planet.

The Johnson & Johnson product, the only shot that comes as one dose, rather than the two-dose series of inoculations developed by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, showed relatively limited effectiveness, amounting to greatly reduced protection, against the Omicron mutation.

Second J & J shot shows protection against Omicron variant

However, the researchers, who administered a second, booster shot of the J & J product found that the protection afforded by this second shot provided significant protection against the variant, which is now sweeping the world as the Delta variant continues to fill hospitals.

Back on December 17, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the Pfizer and Moderna Covid vaccines over Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

The CDC’s advisers pointed to the mounting evidence that the company’s vaccine has the potential to set off a rare blood clot disorder that has been linked to 54 cases and 9 deaths in the United States.

The CDC has now made their panel’s advice official and their guidelines have been updated to discourage vaccine providers and adults from receiving J & J’s vaccine.

The world had little notice to prepare itself for the Omicron variant after it was first identified in southern Africa and Hong Kong in late November.

Linda-Gail Bekker, the South African study’s co-lead investigator, explained to Reuters that the South African study showed the J & J vaccine’s ability to prevent hospitalization rose from 63% just after the booster was given to 84% two weeks later.

They then discerned that the effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson product reached 85% between one to two months after the boost.

“It reassures us that COVID-19 vaccines continue to be effective for the purpose they were designed, which is to protect people against severe disease and death,” Bekker says, adding “This is yet another piece of evidence that we have not lost that impact even in the face of a very mutated variant.”

At this point, she says, it is still unknown whether or not the public could benefit from additional boosters of the J&J vaccine, which is much easier to transport and administer to remote rural areas in Africa than the two-dose mRNA-based vaccines due to its better heat tolerance.

“What we are showing is that two doses really restore full protection; I don’t think we can extrapolate from this that we are going to need a third or a fourth boost at all,” she stated.

The researchers acknowledged that due to time constraints, their analysis was limited. They employed follow-up times that averaged eight days for healthcare workers who had received their boost within the previous 13 days.

However, there was a 32-day follow-up period for those who had been boosted 1-2 months earlier.

Mathai Mammen, the global head at Janssen Research & Development, said in a statement that the firm believed this added protection could be due to robust T-cell responses induced by the vaccine.

“Furthermore, these data suggest that Omicron is not affecting the T-cell responses generated by our vaccine,” he stated.

Johnson & Johnson’s reported in September that own research showed its booster conferred as much as 94% protection against moderate to severe coronavirus, with doses given 8 weeks apart; this level decreased to 75% globally, however.

The omicron variant has spread like lightning, quickly becoming the dominant Covid strain in the United States, with case counts topping 488,000 on Wednesday. Monday’s cases, which were even higher, at approximately 500,000, included diagnoses that occurred over the holiday weekend, skewing the results.

According to The New York Times’ own database, yesterday’s seven-day average of new daily cases, at 301,000, was also a record, compared with an average of 267,000 just one day prior.

Booster shots, testing pushed by physicians worldwide

Meanwhile, booster shots of all types continue to be pushed by physicians all over the world as they face gigantic spikes in the Omicron variant at a time when hospitals are still full with those suffering from the Delta variant.

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told CNBC that he advises people to get an mRNA booster if their first course of vaccine was a non-MRNA one.

“If you have the opportunity after having either the AstraZeneca vaccine or the J&J vaccine to get a booster with Pfizer or Moderna, good for you because that will really boost your antibody levels,” he told CNBC.

Vaccine hesitancy still remains a roadblock to getting to the 90% vaccination rate that some health officials believe is necessary to achieve nationwide herd immunity to Covid. Approximately 61% of people in the U.S. were fully vaccinated as of Dec. 20, according to information from Our World in Data, although vaccinations are continuing at a great clip.

Vaccinations, boosters “terribly important” in avoiding severe disease

Schaffner emphasized that vaccination and boosters are “terribly important” in avoiding severe disease.

Although countries in Asia and Europe have used testing much more widely, Americans are lagging in this area; many people attempting to locate tests before the holidays found shelves empty, and lines for free, onsite testing snaked around blocks before Christmas.

President Biden has agreed to purchase 500 million at-home coronavirus tests that Americans can order for delivery to their homes for free — much as UK residents already do. One caveat, however — the US tests will not start to arrive until January.

Huge pharmaceutical retailers Walmart, Walgreens and CVS Health said that demand for at-home Covid test kits was surging so much that they were compelled to set a limit per each purchase.

When p[ressed by reporters earlier this week, Biden rejected criticism that shortages in testing kits signaled a failure of his administration to properly prepare for the surge in demand that was expected as people prepared to gather for the holidays.

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