A vaccine specifically targeting the omicron coronavirus variant is not needed so long as individuals are entirely caught up on their vaccines, including their booster shot, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday, citing recent data on vaccine longevity.
“Our booster regimens work against omicron,” the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said at a White House press briefing that featured supporting data from the agency, as well as from vaccine maker Pfizer-BioNTech, Rockefeller University in New York, and South African clinical studies. “At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster.”
The data presented, some of which was preliminary, showed that individuals continue to have substantial omicron-fighting antibodies weeks after receiving a booster shot, with one study showing a 38-fold increase in neutralizing activity. But this wasn’t the case for those who had received only two doses of an mRNA vaccine, such as the ones produced by Pfizer and Moderna.
Individuals who had yet to receive a booster continued to have a relatively high level of antibodies to fight other variants of the virus such as the delta variant, but their antibodies significantly dropped in fighting the omicron variant within just a few weeks of receiving their last vaccine dose, the data showed.
“The omicron variant undoubtedly compromises the effects of two-dose mRNA vaccine-induced antibodies and reduces the overall protection,” Fauci said, adding that “considerable protection still maintains against severe disease.”
“So the message remains clear: If you are unvaccinated get vaccinated. And particularly in the arena of omicron, if you are fully vaccinated, get your booster shot,” he said.
The omicron variant accounts for just 3% of cases in the U.S. since the first case was detected in the country two weeks ago. But cases are steadily growing, with one model presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday suggesting that there may be a surge in omicron cases in the U.S. by next month, as The Washington Post reported.
Elsewhere in the world, the European Union said Wednesday that omicron will likely be the dominant coronavirus variant in the 27-nation bloc by mid-January.
“Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said at a separate press conference on Wednesday. He urged people not just to get vaccinated, but also to wear masks and social distance to slow the virus’s spread.
In the U.S., COVID-19 cases have been steadily rising since late October. This is likely because vaccines are starting to wear off, once again highlighting the need for people to get boosters, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said at Wednesday’s White House press conference.
“Vaccination, boosting and masking are especially critical for those who are most vulnerable, including seniors, pregnant people and those who are immunocompromised,” she said.
In the case of nursing homes, where 60% of eligible seniors have received a booster shot so far, Walensky said coronavirus cases among senior residents have been steadily increasing over the past several weeks among those who are unvaccinated and those who have been vaccinated but haven’t received a booster.
“For those who are fully vaccinated, we are starting to see cases increase, which is likely due to the waning of vaccine protection over time,” she said.
“But the good news is that these data show that nursing home residents who are fully vaccinated and have received a booster dose have a 10-times lower rate of getting SARS-CoV-2,” the virus that causes COVID-19, “in comparison to those residents who have only received a primary vaccination series or are unvaccinated,” she said.