As the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 continues to spread across the U.S., new data shows that booster shots specifically targeting the more transmissible strain are no better than boosters of the original vaccines.
While the studies on animals are small — one was tested on just eight primates — and have not been reviewed by peers, as is common in scientific studies, the early data are not promising.
“What we’re seeing coming out of these preclinical studies in animal models is that a boost with a variant vaccine doesn’t really do any better than a boost with the current vaccine,” says David Montefiori, director of the Laboratory for AIDS Vaccine Research and Development at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, who has been researching COVID-19 vaccines, according to Nature magazine. The magazine reported:
One study examined the immune responses of eight rhesus macaques (Macaca mulatta) that received three doses of vaccine: two doses of Moderna’s original vaccine and a booster of either the same shot or a version that incorporated Omicron’s heavily mutated spike protein, which the virus uses to enter human cells. The authors found that monkeys boosted with either vaccine mounted a broad antibody response against all variants of concern, including Omicron. …
Consistent with the primate results, a study in mice found that giving an Omicron-matched booster after two doses of mRNA-based vaccine offered no more benefit than a standard booster. The study also looked at the Omicron-specific vaccine in ‘naive’ mice — those that had not previously been immunized — and found that the rodents produced high levels of potent antibodies against Omicron. But those antibodies had a limited ability to inhibit other key variants of COVID-19. A separate study in naive mice immunized with an Omicron-matched mRNA vaccine reported similar results.
The new data comes as scientists are warning that the next SARS-CoV-2 variant to emerge could well be more dangerous than the latest strain to emerge, Omicron.
Professor Mark Woolhouse of Edinburgh University said it is unknown where the next variant will come from but noted that Omicron did not emerge from the previous variant, Delta.
Omicron “came from a completely different part of the virus’s family tree. And since we don’t know where in the virus’s family tree a new variant is going to come from, we cannot know how pathogenic it might be. It could be less pathogenic but it could, just as easily, be more pathogenic,” he told The Guardian.
The scientist’s opinion was supported by Professor Lawrence Young of Warwick University.
“People seem to think there has been a linear evolution of the virus from Alpha to Beta to Delta to Omicron,” he told The Observer. “But that is simply not the case. The idea that virus variants will continue to get milder is wrong. A new one could turn out to be even more pathogenic than the Delta variant, for example.”
Joseph Curl has covered politics for 35 years, including 12 years as White House correspondent, and ran the Drudge Report from 2010 to 2015. Send tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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