South African scientists conducted a study that revealed how the Omicron coronavirus variant fares against people who have been vaccinated against the infection, initially showing that it could partially evade the effects of the Pfizer vaccine.
Medical experts revealed that laboratory experiments found that the new Omicron variant dulled the efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine. However, the study also showed that people who have received booster shots are better protected against the new variant.
Omicron Variant Against Pfizer
The study was published online on Tuesday and showed how antibodies produced by people who have received the coronavirus vaccine were much less effective at keeping the Omicron variant at bay. Scientists who conducted the experiment were somewhat worried about the results but said there was no need for panic.
The data from the experiment suggest that vaccinated individuals could be vulnerable to being infected by the Omicron variant in what is called a breakthrough case. The new variant is quickly spreading throughout South Africa and has already been detected in dozens of countries worldwide, the New York Times reported.
The South African experiment used samples from 12 people who are already fully vaccinated against the coronavirus infection with Pfizer's vaccine. The results showed that the Omicron variant partially evaded the immune protection provided by the treatment, however, not completely.
The lead of the study team, Alex Sigal of the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, said in a Twitter post that there was a "very large drop in neutralization of Omicron by BNT162b2 [Pfizer/BioNTech] immunity relative to ancestral virus."
Sigal said the findings were good news because while the Omicron variant was able to evade the complete neutralization of the Pfizer vaccine the combination of a previous infection, recovery, and subsequent vaccination still offered protection against the new variant, CNN reported.
Drop in Neutralization Ability
The South African researchers discovered that there was a 41-fold drop in the ability of a person's antibodies produced by coronavirus vaccines to combat the new Omicron variant compared to other variants. The data showed a significant reduction in the Pfizer vaccine's performance against the original strain.
However, the study has not yet been peer-reviewed; and previously, vaccine-induced antibodies dropped three-fold in their ability to neutralize the older Beta variant that dominated South Africa. The results suggest that the Omicron is much better at avoiding protection offered by coronavirus vaccines compared to other variants.
Researchers said that their study showed how the Omicron variant had a much more extensive ability to escape the coronavirus vaccines compared to the Beta variant. Six out of the 12 samples of the study involved were previously infected by the coronavirus infection. Because of the urgency of the pandemic, scientists made their research available to the public before going through the extensive peer-review process.
"I think that there's still going to be protection against serious illness. I think with either vaccination or natural infection or both. You're going to be protected against serious illness," said Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics at the Division of Infectious Disease at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, CNBC reported.