How effective are the different Omicron variant vaccine options?
Omicron Variant vaccine effectiveness is a topic of much discussion. There are conflicting views on just how effective current vaccines are against the Omicron variant. This is not all that surprising since so little is known about it, but who is right? In the beginning, the consensus was that the current vaccines work. It is still thought that this is true, but to what degree?
One area nobody seems to agree on is just how effective the vaccines are against this new variant. The head of the EMA (European Medicines Agency) has recently stated that current vaccines are less effective. Emer Cooke told the Financial Times that:
“The data coming in . . . it’s not at all definitive, there are very small numbers, [but] it’s clear that there is a drop in effectiveness,”.Emer Cooke
There is no question that the current vaccines work against Omicron, but is it less effective? That’s perhaps a little misleading – for instance, a BBC report found that the drop in effectiveness is not as stark as the EMA suggests.
“Even with a booster, protection against severe disease from Omicron may be around 80 to 85.9%, compared to around 97% for Delta – the other variant that is currently dominant in the UK.”.
So, how do the various vaccines stack up against the Omicron variant? Each major manufacturer has had their say, and here they are…
Moderna, a US-based biotechnology company, released a statement recently in response to the surge in Omicron variant infections. Designed to reassure people, the statement is in-depth. The takeaway part of their statement is probably the quote from Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna:
“To respond to this highly transmissible variant, Moderna will continue to rapidly advance an Omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future. We will also continue to generate and share data across our booster strategies with public health authorities to help them make evidence-based decisions on the best vaccination strategies against SARS-CoV-2.”
Referring directly to current vaccines, Stéphane said the Moderna COVID-19 boosters in circulation can boost antibody levels 37 times higher than pre-boost levels. So, while current vaccines are still effective, it is reassuring that that alternatives are being produced ‘just in case’.
Oxford University, England, released a statement concerning the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine. They, as others have, stated that vaccines remain the best protection. Vaccines remain highly effective in protecting against serious illness and death due to COVID-19.
They also say that there is no evidence, as yet, that the Omicron variant is more potent in terms of severe illness or death. The UK HSA (Health Security Agency) has already published early estimations of vaccine effectiveness. It estimates that protection against symptomatic infection is ‘significantly’ lower against Omicaron than Delta.
That sounds slightly concerning but they also note that vaccine effectiveness against Omicron is still 70-75%, as seen after a booster shot. While much lower than against the Delta variant, this effectiveness rate is still high.
The British/Swedish pharmaceutical company made a point of emphasizing that their current vaccine continues to be effective. In their statement, they say the current vaccine has shown to be effective in protecting against serious illness and death due to all SARS-CoV-2 variants.
Of course, that is highly reassuring but research is ongoing. As AstraZeneca said in their statement…
“As with any new emerging variants, we are looking into B.1.1.529 to understand more about it and the impact on the vaccine,“
They added that they are currently conducting further research in Eswatini and Botswana to gather more data.
“That will enable us to collect real-world data of Vaxzevria [their current vaccine] against this new virus variant.”
It would seem that AstraZeneca is taking no chances.
The other major vaccine manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson, released their own statement concerning vaccine effectiveness against the Omicron variant.
“The new Omicron variant highlights the importance of continued surveillance, testing, and vaccination to prevent hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19.”
This sentiment seems to be echoed by all vaccine manufacturers and scientists alike. Indeed, it is hard to argue the logic used.
“We will not be complacent. Building on our long-term collaboration with scientists on the ground in South Africa and the ongoing real-world effectiveness studies being conducted with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, we will work together to generate new data on Omicron.”
It is heartening to learn that both AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson are committed to gathering real-world data from the worst-hit areas of the world.
Summary of Omicron Variant vaccine effectiveness
The consensus is that while the current vaccines are less effective against Omicron, they are effective. Everybody agrees that the best protection is still vaccination and booster doses. Nobody disagrees with this.
Is Omicron less deadly? It would seem that it is, but that isn’t the end of the problem. As has been noted, Omicron spreads much faster and far easier. That means that even if a smaller percentage suffers a serious illness, that is still a much larger number than now because of how far and fast this variant spreads.
The answer? At least for the moment, the best thing we can do is make sure we are vaccinated and we get boosters when offered.
The best thing we can do is keep an eye on the prevalence of the Omicron Variant with our world omicron location map.