A health worker administers a dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to a man at the Sanford Civic Center. With the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in numerous countries including the United States, the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) encouraged all vaccinated adults to get their Covid-19 booster shot.
Paul Hennessy | flare | Getty Images
Pfizer and BioNTech released more human data on Friday suggesting the omicron BA.5 boosters are performing better than the old Covid syringes.
People over 55 who received the new booster shot had about four times more antibodies to omicron BA.5 than people in the same age group who received the old vaccine, according to the companies. Antibodies are an important part of the body’s defense system that prevent the virus from entering cells.
The study compared 36 people over the age of 55 who received the Omicron booster as a fourth dose with 40 people of the same age who received the original vaccine as a fourth dose.
In addition, subjects aged 18 to 55 who received the booster vaccine had 9.5 times more antibodies to omicron BA.5 than before vaccination. These participants were not compared to age-matched people who had received the old vaccines.
Pfizer and BioNTech also found that people with and without a prior Covid infection had a significant increase in their antibody levels after the Omicron boosters. But those who didn’t have a previous infection had greater increases in their antibodies, according to the companies.
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Pfizer and BioNTech released the first human data in October showing that the Omicron boosters elicit a better immune response. But two small, independent studies from Columbia and Harvard cast doubt on whether the recordings really represented a significant improvement. They found that the new boosters and the old shots were about equally good against omicron BA.5.
The Food and Drug Administration said the Columbia and Harvard studies were too small to draw firm conclusions about the boosters. The scientific community and public health officials are closely following the data on the boosters since the FDA approved them without direct human data.
The FDA instead relied on human data from a similar uptake targeting Omicron’s original version, BA.1, as well as animal studies directly examining BA.5 uptake.
Pfizer and Moderna originally developed BA.1 shots, but the FDA urged them to switch over the summer and develop a booster targeting BA.5 as it had become the dominant variant. As a result, companies didn’t have enough time to start clinical trials and provide data before FDA approval.
The FDA acted urgently to introduce new Omicron vaccines by the fall to stave off another wave of infections, hospitalizations, and deaths this fall and winter.
The White House, the FDA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have repeatedly said that the boosters should provide better protection this fall and winter because they are directly tailored to the predominant strain of the virus for the first time since December 2020.
The boosters are called bivalent vaccines because they target both the omicron BA.5 variant and the original virus strain that emerged in China in 2019. The old vaccines are called monovalent vaccines because they only target the original strain of Covid.
The monovalent vaccines no longer offer any meaningful protection against infections and minor illnesses because the virus has developed so rapidly. They are still generally effective against serious illness and hospitalization, although this protection has also diminished over time.
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