Pfizer says ‘protection improved’ against Omicron variant with booster

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(WJW/AP) — The makers of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine said in a press release Wednesday while vaccinated individuals may be protected against severe illness with the Omicron variant, a more robust protection may be achieved by a booster.

The release was based on results from an initial laboratory study. Data from that study has not yet undergone scientific review.

According to Pfizer’s release, those who receive two doses of the vaccine showed a more than 25-fold reduction in neutralization against the variant, indicating two doses may not be sufficient to protect against infection.

“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 Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and CEO. “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.”

The company states it will continue to advance the development of a variant-specific vaccine for Omicron and it could be available by March in the event an adaptation is needed to increase protection.

“We continue to work on an adapted vaccine which, we believe, will help to induce a high level of protection against Omicron-induced COVID-19 disease as well as a prolonged protection compared to the current vaccine,” said Ugur Sahin, M.D., CEO and Co-Founder of BioNTech.

Pfizer’s announcement had an immediate impact on U.S. markets. Futures that had pointed to a lower open reversed course in seconds and swung solidly to the positive with the Dow jumping almost 200 points.

The release was issued after a South African researcher announced his team’s study indicated a ‘large drop’ in immunity from Omicron with the Pfizer vaccine.

“There is a very large drop in neutralization of omicron by BNT162b2 (the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine) immunity relative to ancestral virus,” said Alex Sigal with the Africa Health Research Institute, in a series of tweets on Tuesday. “This was better than I expected of omicron. The fact that it still needs the ACE2 receptor and that escape is incomplete means its a tractable problem with the tools we got.”

CNBC reported the study involved blood samples from 12 people. It has not been peer-reviewed.

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