Pfizer says COVID booster offers protection against omicron
Speaker 1: (00:00)
The ALN variant has dominated global discussion of the COVID 19 pandemic since its discovery in Southern Africa. Last month, nationally fears over the new variant have prompted everything from travel bans and a debate over their effectiveness to a renewed push, to vaccinate the population against what could emerge. And as the new do strain as health officials continue to learn more about Omicron, how it will affect the course of the pandemic remains to be seen. Joining us now with some of our most pressing questions is Dr. Eric Topel director of the scripts research translational Institute in LA Jolla. Dr. Topel welcome back to the program.
Speaker 2: (00:40)
Thanks Jade. Always great to be with you since
Speaker 1: (00:43)
Last we spoke O Macron has become a centerpiece of discussion in the fight against COVID 19 is the concern we've seen so far warranted.
Speaker 2: (00:52)
Absolutely. We haven't gotten Delta under control and here comes Omicron it's it's already, uh, throughout the United States and it's go, gonna be, uh, a very big, important, uh, challenge for us. Um, the main issue with is the fact that it evade our immune response, both the vaccines, as well as if people have had prior COVID without a vaccine. So this, uh, we're getting a lot more data on and there are other proper of that are, uh, an issue, but this is the one that was, uh, feared. Uh, it, fortunately, you know, where there's work around plans, particularly booster shots that are gonna help us a lot, but it's gonna prolong the pandemic. So that's one of the issues we have to be confronting. Some of
Speaker 1: (01:38)
The biggest questions that remain over Alro are it's transmissibility, as you mentioned, and the severity of symptoms it causes, uh, what does the latest data tell us about this?
Speaker 2: (01:49)
There's two components of transmissibility that how it can spread. It looks like Aron has some increased Contag over Delta, which is saying a lot because Delta was so hyper contagious, but it really has a lot of this immune evasion feature. So that's why it's pretty much destined to become a new Domin strain. Remember Delta took over the whole world and right now, except in a few countries that have been the initial ones besides, uh, Southern Africa and Denmark and the UK, most of the countries are in a let well less than 0.1% of Del of Amron. They're 99.9% Delta. So that's gonna change, it's gonna evolve to Amron. And that's why we're gonna have to deal with this immune escape or immune Eva property. It's it's a really big deal. Do
Speaker 1: (02:39)
We know if booster shots give added protection against this new variant?
Speaker 2: (02:43)
Right. So yesterday and then this morning, cumulatively, there have been four new studies and this is now taking either live virus or what's called a pseudo virus and putting it up against the blood samples from people who have been vaccinated or have had prior COVID, you know, with vaccination, all sorts of different vaccines. What we've learned Jade is that there is a pretty substantial drop in the protection from Aron in our vaccines. However, that is fully restored with the booster shot. So the good news is we have a tool that will get us to meet up with Amran, the challenge of Amran. But the problem we have is that we don't have enough people getting boosters, and we need that because just relying on the original two shots, isn't gonna be enough to tackle AMRO.
Speaker 1: (03:33)
Another major concern is that Omicron can override certain protections of four by vaccines. What do we know
Speaker 2: (03:41)
About that? You know, in South Africa, Ang the main province where this really erupted the epicenter. Now, at least of the Comicon, uh, surge, there were a lot of reports that people were less sick, but the problem is those people were young. They had, uh, prior COVID and, or they were vaccinated. So that's not a good readout to be able to say that Amron is associated with mild illness. In fact, it's very likely given everything. We know that the illness that it, it induces will be the same as what we've seen with the other, uh, versions of the virus. So I think it's an illusion for us to think it's kind of this hope bias that it will won't be as bad right now. We ought counter being about the same, the only good thing, Yate, at least there's no sign that it's more lethal or worse than prior versions of the virus.
Speaker 1: (04:31)
And I've heard something about Pfizer and, uh, it's effectiveness. What's the latest with that?
Speaker 2: (04:36)
Well, Pfizer came out today to show that when you get the booster, you get back to high ability to neutralize the virus, which essentially means, you know, inactivate the virus, protect people, and that other studies had already shown it. That's not really new. And they just added on to the three other studies. I mean the, these three reports, one from south African scientists and other from, uh, Sweden, another, from Germany, they're all showing essentially the same thing that Amron is gonna pose a really big challenge to us because, uh, whereas Delta responded really well to vaccines. This one is tricky. Uh, if we don't get the third shot will be vulnerable. The one important thing to emphasize when I say vulnerable, we're taught about infection, symptomatic infection and ability to transmit that to others. But we do think that two shots that people have had will protect from hospitalizations and deaths largely because the main problem with and this is pending some more data is the, the antibodies, but we do make T-cells from our vaccines.
Speaker 2: (05:44)
And if we had a COVID infection and those T-cells are the main way that we protect from really severe COVID pneumonia, hospitalizations, that sort of thing. So when I talk about vulnerability, I'm talking about really to infection and, and transmitting to others. There's not nearly the peril or the danger that we're gonna see as the hospitalization issue, but one caveat there, if it's spreading so much more profoundly, a fraction of those people are gonna get sick and you know, very sick. So that's why these are some unpredictable features that we're gonna learn about as well as the T-cell story in the weeks ahead.
Speaker 1: (06:24)
What role do you think global vaccine inequity played in the emergence of this variant?
Speaker 2: (06:29)
You know, the us is, is the main contributor to new COVID right now with 120,000 cases a day out of 700,000 in the world. So while we have to do everything possible to, uh, get, um, global vaccine equity, uh, we have to get our country in order, which it isn't, we haven't control contained Delta at all. We're going through a second Delta surge, which is the immediate issue. So we are in the process, um, of making, uh, much more vaccine vaccines at scale and distributing those. That's not just the us, that's, you know, many entities that are working on that. It's been too slow. Uh, but hopefully, you know, we'll see improvements there. In the meantime, the, if we talk about global equity, the us has gotta do its part and it isn't doing right now.
Speaker 1: (07:19)
And many medical experts have expressed cautious optimism, uh, as preliminary data shows that Ohn should not coincide with the rise in hospitalizations. Do you agree with that?
Speaker 2: (07:31)
No, I don't agree with that as for the point that I made is that if you are transmitting so broadly and quickly, so super spreading around the country, some people are gonna get sick. That is people who haven't been vaccinated. People who have been vaccinated, but it's wan they it's waned and they haven't gotten a booster. So, no, I don't think we, we that's a false sense of security. Uh, and, uh, like I said, we will know more because countries that we, that have already had a demonstrable increase in Aron, like the UK and Denmark hospitalizations are going up quite a bit in South Africa now. So that will play out in the weeks ahead, but I wouldn't wanna forecast it. The hospitals are gonna be spared and patients are, are not gonna get that sick when it's spread so, so much. Uh, that seems to be inevitability
Speaker 1: (08:24)
In my own experience. You know, the primary care physician is not offering the booster shot. It's two weeks to get an appointment through my turn again. Do you think that accessibility to the booster shot is an issue? It doesn't seem to be as widely available as say the flu shot, for example.
Speaker 2: (08:41)
Yeah. Well, it should be. I mean, most people I know who are getting boosters are going to a pharmacy and, um, the appointments there, uh, usually are, are not with much delay. Now. I don't know the latest on that, but that has to be fixed because we need our, uh, population. Every anyone who's gotten to that six month point should have ready access in even before they had gotten to six months to making an appointment. Uh, I hope we don't have to go to mass vaccination centers again to get this thing done. I hope that we have enough channels that exists today. We don't have a shortage of supply of vaccines. It's more the distribution issue.
Speaker 1: (09:20)
I've been speaking with Dr. Eric Topel director of the scripts research translational Institute, Dr. Topel. Thank you very much for joining
Speaker 2: (09:27)
Us. Thank you, Jane.
Pfizer said Wednesday that a booster dose of its COVID-19 vaccine may offer important protection against the new omicron variant even though the initial two doses appear significantly less effective.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said that while two doses may not be protective enough to prevent infection, lab tests showed a booster increased by 25-fold people's levels of virus-fighting antibodies against the omicron variant.
Blood samples taken a month after a booster showed people harbored levels of omicron-neutralizing antibodies that were similar to amounts proven protective against earlier variants after two doses.
Scientists don't yet know how big a threat the omicron variant really is. Currently the extra-contagious delta variant is responsible for most of the COVID-19 cases in the U.S. and other countries.
But the omicron variant, discovered late last month, carries an unusually large number of mutations and scientists are racing to learn how easily it spreads, whether it causes illness that is more serious or milder than other coronavirus types — and how much it might evade the protection of prior vaccinations.
Pfizer's findings, announced in a press release, are preliminary and haven't yet undergone scientific review. But they're the first from a vaccine maker examining whether the booster doses that health authorities are urging people to get may indeed make an important difference.
Scientists have speculated that the high jump in antibodies that comes with a third dose of COVID-19 vaccines might be enough to counter any decrease in effectiveness.
Pfizer and BioNTech already are working to create an omicron-specific vaccine in case it’s needed.
Antibody levels predict how well a vaccine may prevent infection with the coronavirus but they are just one layer of the immune system’s defenses. Pfizer said two doses of the vaccine should still protect against severe disease, because the mutations in omicron don't appear to hamper one of those other defenses, T cells that fight the virus after infection sets in.
“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 maximized with a third dose of our vaccine,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.
Pfizer’s announcement had an immediate impact on U.S. markets. Futures that had pointed to a lower open reversed course in seconds and swung solidly to the positive with the Dow jumping almost 200 points.