New research suggests that existing COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective in fighting the omicron variant than previous strains of the virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday.

The WHO said further research is required to get a clearer sense of how the omicron variant may penetrate immunity gained from the vaccines, which have generally proved effective against the coronavirus, Reuters reported.

"As a result of this, the overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high," the WHO said, according to Reuters.

A study of the omicron variant that was published earlier this month found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be less effective against the omicron variant than previous strains of COVID-19. In the study of 12 patients by the Africa Health Research Institute, there was a nearly 40-fold reduction in vaccine-induced neutralizing antibodies compared to the original strain of the virus.

A new study published this week by Discovery Health, however, found that the Pfizer vaccine is 70 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations in patients infected with the omicron variant. 

Preliminary studies from Pfizer and BioNTech have additionally found that a booster shot of their vaccine, in addition to the initial two doses, provides strong protection against the variant, according to the companies.

The WHO also noted that for the first time since the contagious delta variant was identified in April, the percentage of delta sequences reported on the organization's scientific database GISAID has declined this week. However, the WHO said that this may be a result of countries targeting their sequencing for omicron and registering fewer sequences from other strains of the virus as a result, per Reuters.

The delta variant still continues to spread around the globe, making up 99.2 percent of the nearly 880,000 sequences reported in the GISAID database in the last 60 days, according to Reuters. 

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