Omicron variant 'will dominate Delta before Christmas' says expert
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The announcement comes amid warning signs the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) may be more easily transmissible than Delta, which is presently the dominant variant in the UK. A spokesman for the Prime Minister said on Tuesday it is still too early to draw conclusions, but early indications suggest the mutated virus spreads more easily. Vaccine manufacturers Pfizer and BioNTech have now said researchers are working on a variant-specific vaccine that will target Omicron.
However, they stressed a regular course of two jabs and a booster are still the best course of action.
In a statement published on Wednesday morning, the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said preliminary lab tests indicate three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab are effective at neutralising the new variant.
Pfizer went on to claim two doses still help to “significantly reduced neutralization titers”.
The update came after reports the Pfizer vaccine is up to 40 times less effective against Omicron than the original strain of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer, said: “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.
“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.”
Dr Ugur Sahin, CEO and Co-Founder of BioNTech, added: “Our preliminary, first dataset indicate that a third dose could still offer a sufficient level of protection from disease of any severity caused by the Omicron variant.
“Broad vaccination and booster campaigns around the world could help us to better protect people everywhere and to get through the winter season.
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“We continue to work on an adapted vaccine which, we believe, will help to induce a high level of protection against Omicron-induced COVID-19 disease as well as a prolonged protection compared to the current vaccine”
Despite these findings, Pfizer said researchers are “highly confident” an Omicron-specific jab will be ready by March next year.
Pfizer and BioNTech began work on the new jab in late November when Omicron was identified as a variant of concern (VOC).
The first batches of the vaccine, according to the company, are planned to be ready for delivery within 100 days, pending regulatory approval.
The companies have previously started clinical trials for variant-specific vaccines targetting the Alpha, Beta, Delta and Alpha/Delta Mix variants.
All three have been identified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as VOCs.
Omicron was officially designated a VOC on November 26 after researchers identified a number of potentially dangerous mutations.
According to the WHO, these changes in the virus’s genetic makeup “may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how it easily spreads ore the severity of illness it causes”.
However, it is still unclear what sort of impact Omicron has on the severity of COVID-19.
According to the US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Facui, initial studies indicate the variant appears to be less severe than Delta.
But he stressed the data is inconclusive and it is “going to take another couple of weeks” of research in South Africa, where the variant was discovered.
Dr Fauci added: “As we get more infections throughout the rest of the world, it might take longer to see what’s the level of severity.”
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