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WHO speaks on effectiveness of available vaccines against Omicron

Written by on December 9, 2021

Following the first lab tests of the new Omicron variant in South Africa suggesting that it can partially evade the Pfizer jab, the World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that the vaccines should work against the variant.

Researchers say there was a “very large drop” in how well the vaccine’s (Pfizer) antibodies neutralized the new strain.

“Existing vaccines should still protect people who contract the Omicron variant from severe Covid cases,” a World Health Organization (WHO) official told BBC.

Nonetheless, the WHO’s Emergencies Director, Dr Mike Ryan said there was no sign Omicron would be better at evading vaccines than other variants.

“We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalization, and there’s no reason to expect that it wouldn’t be so for Omicron,” Dr Ryan told AFP news agency.

He added that initial data suggested Omicron did not make people sicker than the Delta and other strains. “If anything, the direction is towards less severity,” he said.

The new South African Study which has not yet been peer-reviewed found the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine may result in up to 40 times fewer neutralizing antibodies against Omicron than against the original Covid strain.

That in equation, Prof Alex Sigal, a virologist at the Africa Health Research Institute who led the research told BBC that Omicron’s ability to escape vaccine antibodies is ‘incomplete’.

Sigal said that the results, based on blood tests from 12 people, were better than he expected of Omicron.

He asserted that if vaccination is combined with previous infection, it could still neutralize against the variant. That suggests boosters may bring a significant benefit.

Scientists believe previous infection, followed by vaccination or a booster, is likely to increase the neutralization level and will probably protect people against severe disease.

More data on how well the Pfizer jab works against Omicron is expected to be released in the coming days.

There is no significant data yet on how the Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and other jabs hold up against the new variant.

Omicron is the most heavily mutated version of coronavirus found so far but its ability to cause severe disease is not yet clear.

It was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in late November. There is now a surge in the number of people catching Covid multiple times in South Africa.

Uganda’s Health Minister confirmed that the country has 7 cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious diseases expert, said early evidence suggests Omicron could be more transmissible but less severe.

There have been more than 267 million cases and more than five million deaths around the globe since the pandemic started in 2020, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.


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