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Opinion: Omicron is changing the game for Covid-19 vaccines

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Opinion: Omicron is changing the game for Covid-19 vaccines

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Data that was collected in South Africa, where scientists first discovered this variant from samples collected on November 12, and the UK, where the variant was detected on November 27, gives us an idea of ​​what to expect: exponentially rising Covid cases set to put additional strain on already besieged healthcare systems, vacation disappointments and, for those caught in the waves, fevers, body aches and pains other symptoms of Covid-19. Fortunately, most reports so far show that infection with Omicron, compared to Delta or other variants, causes a less severe infection, with a lower hospitalization and case fatality rate.

As more information accumulates, attention returns to where it always seems to be: vaccination. However, this time it is not just the unvaccinated people, although they remain at high risk of infection. Rather, the focus is on the high vaccine escape rate demonstrated by Omicron among recipients of the recommended two-shot mRNA vaccine series (Moderna or Pfizer / BioNTech).

In recent weeks, responding to both Omicron and clear evidence of waning immunity to the Delta variant after six months, public health officials have strongly encouraged those already vaccinated to receive a third dose. – the reminder – pronto.
The addition of the third injection is also clearly effective against Omicron, with data from the National Institutes of Health on the Pfizer vaccine showing that protection after three doses can be as high as around 80% effectiveness. Preliminary data from Imperial College London on the two mRNA vaccines used in the United States places third dose protection between 55% and 80%.
As former NIH director Francis Collins and UK executives noted, booster-induced immunity is also key to reducing the risk of severe symptoms, even if a breakthrough infection were to occur.
All of this effort to find the best approach has created a lot of uncertainty. However, vaccine and public health experts have undergone this type of adjustment in the air many times before. In 2009, for example, in the face of the H1N1 influenza pandemic, experts decided to add a newly made supplemental vaccine to the routine seasonal influenza vaccine. Due to arduous production time and several months required for influenza vaccines, the cure – a new vaccine using the same old technology – was only available after most of the pandemic had passed.
At other times, experts have determined that an additional injection of an already available vaccine (aka a “boost”) has been recommended to contain an observed increase in “breakthrough” cases: vaccination programs to prevent measles , mumps and rubella, among other infections, were adjusted to include an additional injection after a small sustained increase in cases among those previously vaccinated was observed.
Moreover, the idea of ​​giving a vaccine three or even four times to trigger the initial immunity is quite familiar to public health officials. One example is the remarkably successful US program to fight hepatitis B with a full three-vaccine series. For some people who have a slow initial response (5% to 15% of the general population), a second set of three injections – six vaccines in total – is needed to confer immunity.

All of this was done soberly, quietly and without public protest or intimidation. This has also been done without every “breakthrough” infection seen as calamitous or clear evidence of a failure of the vaccination program due to poor judgment and false promises or political sleight of hand. and the greed of Big Pharma.

Opinion: Omicron is changing the game for Covid-19 vaccines

 | Top stories
So where does all of this take us? Obviously, everyone needs to be boosted and, in the long term or until a new group of vaccines demonstrates otherwise, the standard Covid-19 vaccine schedule should be a three-shot series for everyone. , with the possibility of additional vaccinations if the data show the need. In short, we need to have a flexible mindset about what constitutes the “primary vaccine series” and be open to the possibility that, as with so many other infections, we need to periodically boost our immunity. In this regard, it should be noted that Israel, which launched the call for a third vaccine, has now started administering a fourth after seeing breakthroughs months after the third vaccine.
The coming months will be frightening as we will inevitably see an increase in Covid cases, but they will also be exciting on the vaccine front. For example, a new class of very futuristic-sounding vaccines that use recombinant nanoparticle technology to present some advanced Covid-19 protein to the body’s immune system has just been given the Emergency Use List (EUL) of the World Health Organization (WHO), a prerequisite for the distribution of the vaccine to nations under the COVAX program.

For now, however, the basics are as follows: For people who have been triple vaccinated, the appearance of Omicron just as the Christmas and New Year celebrations are about to begin is extremely disheartening, but of the point. From a health perspective, it can be miserable, but it is certainly not a disaster.

For the unvaccinated – well, here we go. As President Joe Biden grimly and precisely predicted, given our current understanding of Omicron, people without immunity can anticipate a “winter of serious illness and death.” Perhaps the Omicron push will accomplish what the Alpha and Delta pushes failed to do: convince people to protect their health and that of their community. Hope is eternal.

Finally, the sudden appearance of the Unleashed variant of Omicron could finally teach us that the when, how, and where of the next variant of Covid-19 simply cannot be predicted. For our New Year’s resolution, maybe we should all just stop trying.

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