Doctors still don’t know exactly how well current covid-19 vaccines protect people against the new omicron variant, already in the United States. But what they do know is that people shouldn’t wait to get a vaccine or a booster dose.
“Getting maximum protection is now more important than ever, and not just by omicron,” US Health Director Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN on Tuesday.
More than 40% of the US population still needs the full vaccination schedule, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
And only 23% of fully vaccinated adults in the US have received a booster dose.
On Monday, following news about the omicron variant, the CDC recommended that everyone 18 and older receive a booster dose.
Although it takes scientists a couple of weeks to better understand the efficacy of current vaccines against the new variant, public health experts say it shouldn’t be expected.
While the news focuses on the new omicron variant, it is the highly transmissible delta variant that remains a major problem in the US Cases have yet to return to lows this summer.
On average, the United States records more than 70,000 new COVID-19 cases and 730 deaths per day, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Booster doses work well against the delta variant. A study published Tuesday found that a booster dose of the Pfizer vaccine reduces the risk of COVID-19 infection by 80% or more, above the protection offered by the first two doses.
It’s coronavirus season
Winter is here. It is a season when people spend more time indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. A study conducted in Japan last year found that the virus was 19 times more likely to spread indoors than outdoors. Virus particles also stay longer in drier winter weather, and our noses get dry, potentially leaving them more vulnerable to infection.
Families also travel and gather during vacations, increasing the risk of exposure.
Vaccines should offer some protection regardless of variant
The vaccines produce a strong and broad immune response that provides an additional cushion of protection, he said.
“Our experience with variants such as delta is that, although the vaccine is not specifically targeted at that variant when you get a high enough level of the immune response, you get spillover protection, even against a variant that the vaccine does not. it was specifically targeted, “Fauci said at a briefing at the White House on Wednesday.
“That’s why we think that although we don’t have a lot of data on this, there are many reasons to believe that the kind of boost that you get with the booster dose would be helpful, at least to prevent severe disease from a variant. like omicron “.
The many mutations in the new variant make it what Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, called “a somewhat different animal” on Tuesday. That can lower the degree of protection; however, the body’s immune system is “smart,” especially when vaccinated, he said.
“Not only does it increase the level of antibodies, but it increases the breadth of the coverage that they have of spike proteins that their system has not even seen before, but is now ready,” Collins said. “It is that phenomenon that I think is going to help us here.”
The danger of producing more mutations
Getting vaccinated isn’t just about protecting yourself, experts say, it’s about protecting others as well. The more people that are infected, the more likely it is that the variants will evolve in their bodies.
People who are not vaccinated often take longer to fight infections and that gives the virus a better chance to change.
“The virus mutates when people become infected. It does not mutate in the air, so even if you were infected and it was fine, guess what?” Said Dr. Jorge E. Rodríguez, an internal medicine specialist who performs internships. in Newport Beach, California, and is a medical analyst for CNN. “You may have contributed to mutations that will be stronger, so there is no good infection, even if you survived it with minimal symptoms.”
Treatments may not work as well
Due to multiple mutations in the spike protein that Regeneron’s monoclonal therapies target, the company is investigating whether the treatments will continue to work as well.
“Further analysis is underway to confirm and quantify this potential impact using the actual omicron variant sequence,” Regeneron said Tuesday. He added that the mutations seen in the omicron variant indicate that its treatment with monoclonal antibodies, which activate the immune system, might not work as well against infections caused by the new variant.
Gilead, the maker of redelivering, the only antiviral that has been approved for the treatment of COVID-19, said there is no indication that the mutations seen in the omicron variant will limit the drug’s effects, although the company is running tests to make sure.
Omicron might not be dominant
Scientists don’t yet know if the omicron variant will become the dominant strain as delta did. Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, thinks it’s unlikely.
“When you look at the sequence of the virus in terms of its transmissibility, it looks a lot like the alpha variant that emerged in the UK and arrived in the US at the beginning of the year, which was more transmissible than the original lineage, but not more transmissible than delta, “Hotez told CNN on Tuesday.
“On that basis, I don’t think omicron is necessarily going to outperform delta.”
Even if it is not dominant, omicron could become a problem for people who have been infected and recovered and not vaccinated, he said.
The new vaccine would take time
If for some reason, current vaccines don’t provide as much protection, there is a backup plan. But it will take time.
Pfizer and Moderna said they are already testing a specific vaccine for Omicron just in case, even though they are still trying to figure out how current vaccines against the variant work.
“If we need it, we won’t waste time,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNN on Monday. When the beta and delta variants began to circulate, Bourla said the company also made vaccines specifically for those variants, but that they were not necessary. The original vaccines offered good protection. Bourla believes the same will happen with omicron.
“I doubt the results will make us realize that we are not protected at all,” Bourla said.
Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Burton, said he is concerned about this “new twist in the fight against covid,” but still believes that his company’s vaccine provides protection.
“I think we have to assume that it is very good to have some vaccine, even against a very altered and highly dangerous variant,” he said.
And if a special vaccine is needed, it will take about 100 days for it to reach people’s arms. The Biden administration said it is working closely with manufacturers to make sure new vaccines if needed, are quickly accessible.
In the meantime, getting a vaccine or a booster dose now, rather than waiting, is the best course of action.
“The bottom line is that if you want to maximize your protection against all variants, getting a booster dose is the way to go,” Murthy said.