Fauci: Vaccines Don't Need to Be Changed to Target Omicron – For Now (Getty)
By Fran Beyer | Wednesday, 15 December 2021 01:05 PM
COVID-19 vaccines don’t currently need to be changed to target the omicron variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.
At a White House press briefing, Fauci, the top medical adviser to the White House, noted the "intense interest" in the abilities of vaccines to neutralize the latest strain.
"Our booster vaccine regimens work again omicron. At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster," said Fauci, who is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
While the delta variant still accounts for the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in the country, omicron is being detected in about 3% of new cases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In some states, it's higher, including New Jersey and New York, where omicron could account for 13% of new cases, Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during the briefing.
Fauci cited data that suggests boosters are 75% effective against severe disease, and said the two-dose mRNA vaccine regimens of Pfizer and Moderna, while much less effective in fending off omicron entirely, still provide considerable protection against hospitalization.
Health authorities and drugmakers have been racing to assess the highly mutated variant's impact on the protection offered by current vaccines, and to determine if booster shots would need to be changed to protect against the new strain, CBC News noted.
Early results from several recent studies testing antibodies from the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines against mock-ups engineered to look like the variant have found the vaccine's protection could be sufficient to fend off omicron, if combined with a booster shot, the news outlet reported.
One study funded by the National Institutes of Health from scientists in Massachusetts, which was released as a preprint that has yet to be peer-reviewed, suggested antibodies from fully vaccinated people who were boosted with the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines may have a "potent" ability to neutralize omicron.
Health authorities in Europe concluded earlier Wednesday that boosters "will increase protection" against Omicron, but they seem to favor accelerating boosters.
According to CBS News, the scientists said data support giving booster shots "as early as three months from completion of the primary vaccination."
They also warned that even if early results suggesting Omicron is milder than the Delta variant turn out to be accurate, its increased transmissibility could be enough to "outweigh any benefits of a potentially reduced severity."