Since the Omicron variant arrived on the scene late last month, one of the biggest questions facing researchers, governments, and others with an interest has been whether existing vaccines will work against the new variant.
Now, one of the makers of the vaccines has released some early data that looks like good news.
In an update released Wednesday morning, Pfizer and Biontech stated that “preliminary laboratory studies demonstrate that three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine neutralize the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529 lineage) while two doses show significantly reduced neutralization titers.” The update noted that a third dose of the Pfizer vaccine “increases the neutralizing antibody titers” by twenty-five-fold, compared to just two doses.
In addition, the report stated that 80 percent of the epitopes in the spike protein that are “recognized by CD8+ T” are unaffected by the mutations in the Omicron variant.
The study was described as an “initial laboratory study,” one which the companies themselves cautioned was preliminary. There had been a report earlier in the week from South African scientists looking at the Pfizer vaccines’ effectiveness, but the study Wednesday came from Pfizer and Biontech.
That said, Pfizer and Biontech also confirmed that they’re at work on a “variant-specific vaccine” and are expecting to have it available for use in March of 2022, which will not affect their planned capacity of four billion doses for 2022.
The companies did not release the full data from the study.
The CEO of Pfizer has appeared more positive, in initial interviews after the arrival of Omicron, than his counterpart with Moderna. And that continued to a quote given as part of a press statement issued on Wednesday.
“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,” Albert Bourla, the chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer, said in the press statement. “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.”
Appearing on NBC’s The Today Show Wednesday, per NBC News, Bourla reiterated that the three doses provide similar protection against Omicron as the original two-dose regime had against the original variant.
NBC News noted that other questions remain unknown about the new variant, including how deadly it is and how fast it can spread.
It remains very early in the life of the Omicron variant, and a great deal remains unknown. But the latest news from Pfizer is an encouraging sign.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.