Many mainstream media sources are reporting on a new press release from Pfizer that suggests that a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could neutralize the novel omicron variant.
Omicron has been making headlines recently because it’s able to elude many of the antibodies that can fight against COVID-19 and other diseases. Omicron is still susceptible to T-cells produced by the vaccine, BioNTech says, meaning that vaccinated people would most likely be protected from a severe COVID-19 reaction.
Researchers analyzed the levels of antibodies in blood samples from hospitalized adults with PCR-confirmed Sars-COV-2 infections and/or vaccinated individuals. The samples were collected three weeks after participants received their second dose or one month after receiving their third dose. They discovered that individuals with three vaccine doses had 35 times more antibodies than individuals with only two doses. Pfizer’s CEO noted the level of antibodies in three doses of the vaccine was as effective against omicron as two doses of the vaccine were against the original COVID-19 variant.
Many scientists stress the importance of receiving a booster shot. Boosters may serve as a holdover during the highly contagious winter months, while Pfizer and BioNTech are on an omicron-specific vaccine that is projected to be available in March 2022 (scientists began this work on November 25, 2021). Pfizer and BioNTech plan to roll out 4 billion vaccine doses next year, including a possible omicron-specific vaccine.
There are several limitations to these new findings. Researchers want to emphasize that these are preliminary results, and it could take up to six weeks before we can get “real-world data on vaccine effectiveness.” These results were published in a press release from Pfizer, but they have not been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal. The results are promising, but it’s too early to say for sure.
It’s also essential to note that South Africa, the first country to discover the new omicron variant, has had limited access to vaccines compared to other Western countries. Out of the 6.4 billion vaccine doses that have been administered globally, only 2.5% have been given in Africa— even though its people make up 17% of the global population. While many Western commentators assume that low vaccination rates in Africa are caused by the population’s refusal to be vaccinated, the situation is more complex than that. It’s an access problem; only 7-16% of the total doses supplied to low-income countries in Africa have been delivered. Eight hundred million more doses need to be delivered before 2021 ends to ensure that 40% of Africa’s population is fully vaccinated.
South African scientists have been highly influential in providing data about the omicron variant to the rest of the world. If their communities are not being provided the same access to vaccines, it is hard to say whether or not they will continue to offer open-access data anymore. To stop the spread of COVID-19, we need to ensure that everyone has access to vaccines— not just those who can afford it.
As for a third booster shot, it is recommended that adults 18 and up receive a booster shot six months after their initial dose if they received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine and two months after receiving the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine. Pfizer emphasizes that its third dose is not just a booster but a vaccine against omicron.