The new variant appears to be better than any other version of the virus that has ever been encountered to avoid vaccine protection. “Omicron is a much stronger escape route,” says Shahin.
The good news is that the results were much better among people who got boosted with the third dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. In this case, the vaccine’s ability to block the coronavirus has practically recovered.
Laboratory findings mean governments will rush to propose booster doses. In the US, all people over the age of 18 are eligible for the booster shot. from 19 Novemberbut in other countries, vaccine supplies remain limited.
If omicron becomes widespread, governments and companies will also have to decide whether to update messenger RNA vaccines, such as Pfizer’s, to target this option. Such vaccines work by delivering copies of the viral thorn gene into human cells, thereby triggering an immune response.
Since the omicron spike is very different, with over 30 mutations, the new vaccine, with its specific genetic code, will work better against it.
BioNTech says it has already developed the omicron vaccine and could move the entire manufacturing process to March. “The only thing that is changing is the draft of the new version,” says Shahin. “We’ll start releasing it, and then we’ll decide if it’s worth the transition.”
However, it is still unclear whether a new vaccine is needed or what damage the omicron is capable of.
Even two doses of the vaccine can prevent people from dying from this option. This is because vaccines create immunity not only through antibodies, but also through long-lived memory cells, including T cells. Most of the Omicron mutations do not fall into the T cell targeting regions BioNTech has investigated.
For this reason, Shaheen says, two doses of Pfizer can prevent serious illness, although it will take one or two months of data to know for sure.