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Pfizer Vaccine Less Effective Against Omicron Than Beta Variant, South Africa Study Reveals

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Dec 07, 2021 - 08:57 PM

Earlier this afternoon we wondered what time the traditional late day selloff would hit.

The answer - just after 3pm, because that's when we got the latest troubling news about the new covid strain: according to Bloomberg, which cited the research head of a laboratory at the Africa Health Research Institute in South Africa, Omicron’s ability to evade vaccine and infection-induced immunity is “robust but not complete.”

In the first reported experiments gauging the effectiveness of COVID vaccines against the worrisome new strain, researchers at the institute found that the variant could partially evade the vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech. Still, as South Africa's Alex Sigal said, "evasion wasn’t complete and a booster shot could provide additional protection" suggesting that this is yet another pitch for booster shoots.

The study on 12 people found that using blood plasma shows a 40x reduction in neutralization capacity of Pfizer (PFE) vaccines vs Omicron COVID-19 variant, although vaccines likely protect against severe diseases.

Sigal’s laboratory was the first to isolate the beta variant. As Sigal adds, the variant still targets ACE-2 inhibitor and the news is "generally good."

Results are preliminary and subject to change.

The work in Sigal’s lab involved testing blood plasma from people who were vaccinated against Covid-19 to gauge the concentration of antibodies needed to neutralize, or block, the virus. The results, along with those from other labs currently under way, will help determine whether or not existing Covid vaccines need to be altered to protect against omicron.

The news comes as the WSJ notes that Omicron variant "is weeks away from becoming the dominant strain in parts of Europe, government officials and scientists say, as emerging evidence from the U.K., Norway and South Africa suggests that vaccines may offer significant protection against severe illness with the variant."

However, so far, South Africa has seen fewer deaths since omicron was first discovered and reported to the WHO.

The evidence is likely to reinforce government efforts to broaden vaccination coverage and offer booster shots.

The silver lining is that, as we have previously reported, cases so far have overwhelmingly been mild. Officials in Norway say that is likely because so many of the infections have been in vaccinated people. Many cases are still only a few days old, however, and scientists say it is too soon to be sure whether the level of disease severity reported reflects some property of Omicron itself, or is a result of factors such as the protection afforded by vaccination or prior infection, or age.

Still, the variant has triggered border closures world-wide in the run-up to Christmas and sparked new anxiety over how soon the world will be able to put the pandemic behind it. The picture emerging from labs in South Africa, the focus of the Omicron outbreak, and increasingly from Europe is that the variant is likely more transmissible than previous versions of the virus and may be able to more easily sidestep the immunity from prior infection or vaccination. It displays dozens of mutations, some linked to faster spread and some whose properties are entirely unknown.

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