What we know about vaccines' protection against omicron

Because the omicron variant is still scarce in most parts of the world, researchers do not yet have conclusive data on how it will evolve and how well vaccines work against it, according to a Dec. 8 report in The Atlantic

Researchers have conducted laboratory tests that have produced preliminary results about how omicron reacts to COVID-19 vaccines. For example, Pfizer issued a press release Dec. 8 saying its booster provided significant protection against omicron during a laboratory study, but the company has yet to release data. The drugmaker said the initial vaccination series did not protect against the variant as well as the booster did, suggesting omicron evades antibodies but could be quelled if there are enough in a person's body.

Vineet Menachery, PhD, a coronavirologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, said vaccines' protection against omicron is "not great, but not the worst-case scenario either."

Experts say it is important to note that the preliminary study results are based mainly on laboratory-based trials that combine omicron  — or an artificial replica — with blood samples from people who have been vaccinated or infected. Lisa Gralinski, PhD, a coronavirologist  at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said these tests don't represent the complexity of actual human body processes but rather give an approximation of how well people's immune protection might last against omicron.

Laboratory tests also represent a single moment in time: the moment the blood sample was drawn. This snapshot does not account for the fact that vaccinated people's bodies are trained to produce antibodies when needed, the report said.

The U.S. is prepared to expedite the authorization of vaccines redesigned to target the omicron variant, as FDA officials met with drugmakers to discuss guidelines for the data the agency will need to quickly assess the revamped vaccines' safety and efficacy. Experts told The Atlantic it's a good idea to prepare, but redesigned vaccines might not be necessary, as omicron could die out even if the current vaccines don't target the variant perfectly.

While waiting for more conclusive data, experts agreed that administering booster shots is the most viable option for combating the spread of omicron, according to the report.


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