COVID News: Moderna Booster Effective Against Omicron and CDC's "Test to Stay" Policy

Coronavirus News

As the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron picks up speed, vaccine makers are rushing to test their shots against the new mutation, with mixed results. For that and more COVID-19 news, continue reading.

Moderna Booster Neutralizes Omicron

Moderna announced preliminary data suggesting the third booster shot of its mRNA vaccine offers protection against the Omicron variant of COVID-19. In laboratory studies of blood plasma from people who received the two-shot regimen and a three-shot regimen, the three-shot produced a 37-fold increase in neutralizing antibody levels against Omicron compared to the two-shot. The third shot is half a dose of the two original shots. They also tested a full 100 microgram dose of the third shot and it increased antibody levels about 83-fold compared to pre-boost levels.

“The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant is concerning to all,” said Stephane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive officer. “However, these data showing that the currently authorized Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels are reassuring.”

The company is also testing an Omicron-specific booster if it should become necessary.

Moderna Pauses Lawsuits Over Patents with NIH

Moderna and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have been battling over control of the patents for the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine. The company may profit up to $18 billion on the vaccine this year. If NIH researchers who participated in the development are granted inventor status, the NIH would potentially collect royalties. It would also allow the NIH to license the patent, for example, to low- and middle-income countries, which Moderna has been reluctant to do. Moderna has decided to halt the lawsuit against the NIH over the vaccine, saying it “could interfere with further discussions aimed at an amicable resolution.”

26-Year-Old’s Death in New Zealand May Be Linked to Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine

Health authorities in New Zealand say they have associated the death of a 26-year-old man with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The patient was diagnosed with myocarditis, a rare inflammation of the heart, after his first dose. This is the second death in New Zealand tied to the vaccine after a woman reportedly died after receiving her shots.

“With the current available information, the board has considered that the myocarditis was probably due to vaccination in this individual,” a COVID-19 Vaccine Independent Safety Monitoring Board stated. The man had not sought medical treatment for his symptoms.

President Biden to Announce New Steps to Deal with Omicron on Tuesday

President Joe Biden is scheduled to talk about the Omicron variant on Tuesday, December 21. He is expected to announce additions to his Winter Plan, which pushed for more testing and booster shots. The average number of U.S. COVID-19 cases rose 26% in the past two weeks, with hospitalizations up 3% in the last week. Omicron only represents 3% of cases, but it is rising fast.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the White House’s top medical advisor, said, “The one thing that’s very clear, and there’s no doubt about this, is its extraordinary capability of spreading, its transmissibility capability. It is just, you know, raging through the world, really. And if you look even here in the United States, you have some regions that start off with a few percent of the isolates that are positive, now going up to 30%, 40%, and some places 50%.”

Francis Collins, the retiring director of the NIH noted that Omicron should be taken seriously, even though in South Africa is appears to be associated with less severe disease. “Even if it has a somewhat lower risk of severity, we could be having a million cases a day if we’re not really attentive to all of those mitigation strategies.”

Improved testing might help. Although U.S. testing for COVID-19 is barely adequate, testing for specific variants is spotty, and there is a shortage of tests for Omicron. And studies suggest that not all COVID-19 tests can identify Omicron.

Vaccinations Plus Breakthrough Infections Equal “Super Immunity”

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), patients who received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine but who had a breakthrough infection, generated “super immunity” that creates antibodies as much as 1,000% more effective than those from just the two-shot regimen.

“We have not examined the Omicron variant specifically but based on the results of this study we should anticipate that breakthrough infections from the Omicron variant will generate a similarly strong immune response among vaccinated people,” stated senior author Fikadu Tafesse, assistant professor of molecular microbiology and immunology in the OHSU School of Medicine.

Pfizer: COVID-19 Could Become Endemic by 2024

An endemic disease is more like the flu or cold, where the population has enough immunity from vaccines or previous infectious to control transmissions, hospitalizations and deaths. Pfizer executives say they believe COVID-19 will become endemic possibly by 2024.

“When and how exactly this happens will depend on the evolution of the disease, how effectively society deploys vaccines and treatments, and equitable distribution to places where vaccination rates are low,” said Mikael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief scientific officer. “The emergence of new variants could also impact how the pandemic continues to play out.”

CDC’s New Guidelines Allows Unvaccinated Children to Stay in School After Exposure

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a “test to stay” strategy that would improve testing of children and their close contacts after exposure to someone positive for COVID-19. The new guidelines allow the unvaccinated to stay in school after being exposed if certain conditions are met, including multiple tests. They recommend two negative tests within a week after exposure. It does not require vaccinated people to isolate themselves after potential exposure.

Most Vaccines Don’t Seem to Protect Against Omicron

Although studies are progressing, and there’s positive news about the effectiveness of booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines against the Omicron variant, other preliminary studies suggest many of the vaccines worldwide don’t protect against Omicron. They do appear to protect against serious disease from Omicron, which is the most important thing. But the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna shots, so far, with a booster, seem to be able to prevent infections. The others, such as AstraZeneca-Oxford, Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik V from Russia and several manufactured in China do not seem to be effective against Omicron.

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