White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has acknowledged that the currently available coronavirus booster shots have been shown to work well against the new and highly mutated Omicron coronavirus variant and that a variant-specific shot won’t likely be needed.
“Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said during a White House COVID briefing on Wednesday.
“At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster,” he continued.
Fauci did, however, note that the primary two-dose vaccination series from Pfizer and BioNTech offers only 33 percent protection against the Omicron variant but is still 70 percent effective at preventing severe disease. The variant currently makes up roughly 3 percent of all coronavirus cases nationwide, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Obviously, this is significantly down but there is the maintaining of a degree of protection against hospitalization,” he said.
“And so, the message remains clear. If you are unvaccinated get vaccinated, and particularly in the arena of Omicron if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot,” he added.
Jeff Zients, the White House COVID response coordinator, said the unvaccinated are eight times more likely to end up hospitalized and fourteen times more likely to die when compared to those who have been vaccinated. CDC data show that 61 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and 27 percent have received a booster shot.
Variant-Specific Shots Effective?
Fauci’s comments come as some medical experts have already questioned the effectiveness of variant-specific shots. Earlier this month, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), noted that “there’s reason to believe” that variant-specific immunizations might not work well against other coronavirus variants.
“What we’ve seen in the past, for example, when we engineered a vaccine to specifically target 1351, the old South African variant, was that vaccine worked well or appeared to work well against 1351 but didn’t appear to provide as good coverage against all the other variants,” Gottlieb, a physician who worked at the FDA under former Presidents Donald Trump and George W. Bush and now serves on the board of COVID vaccine maker Pfizer, said in an interview on CBS News.
“And there’s reason to believe that as you develop vaccines that are very specific to some of these new variants, they may not work as well against the full complement of different variants that we’ve seen,” Gottlieb said. “So, you wanted to try to stick with the ancestral strain, the Wuhan strain, in the vaccine, I think, as long as possible.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.