As Omicron Shatters Records, Pfizer Tweaks Vaccine

COVID news

With record-shattering new cases of COVID-19 across the U.S., the urgency for vaccinations is even greater than ever. In addition, Pfizer has reported that an Omicron-specific vaccine will be available in March, should it be necessary. For those and more COVID-19 news, continue reading.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s Omicron-Specific Vaccine Will Be Ready in March

Pfizer has indicated that a vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant should be ready by March. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Omicron is responsible for more than 95% of new cases of all new cases in the U.S. Working with its partner, BioNTech, Pfizer said it can “update the current vaccine to address any future variant of potential concern if needed. In the event that a third dose with the current vaccine is not found to protect against the Omicron variant or other future variants, Pfizer expects to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval,” a company spokesperson said.

In a related story, Pfizer’s Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference that the standard two shots of its original vaccine may not offer strong protection against the Omicron variant and they appear to have lost some of their efficacy at preventing hospitalization. However, the third booster shot does seem to continue offering that protection.

“The two doses, they’re not enough for Omicron,” Bourla said. “The third dose of the current vaccine is providing quite good protection against deaths and decent protection against hospitalizations.”

Real-world data from a study in the UK observed that two doses are 52% effective at preventing hospitalization 25 weeks after the second shot. But two doses of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines are only about 10% effective at preventing infection from Omicron 20 weeks after the second dose, but the booster dose brings the effectiveness up to 75% at preventing symptomatic infection and 88% against hospitalization. It is not clear how long a booster dose will continue to offer protection. The UK study suggests that boosters are only 40% to 50% effective at preventing hospitalization.

Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine 91% Effective Against Childhood Inflammatory Syndrome

According to a study published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are 91% effective at preventing multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) among 12- to 18-year-olds hospitalized for COVID-19. MIS-C is a rare but serious COVID-related inflammatory condition that can appear two to six weeks after a mild or asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. 

The research was led by CDC researchers and looked at real-world data. They had 90 COVID-19-negative patients as controls and 91 MIS-C-negative patients from July 1 to December 9, 2021. The median age of participants was 14.5 years, and 58% had other underlying medical conditions. Approximately 36% of the control group and 5% of the COVID-19 patients were fully vaccinated a minimum of 28 days before hospitalization.

“This analysis lends supportive evidence that vaccination of children and adolescents is highly protective against MIS-C and COVID-19 and underscores the importance of vaccination of all eligible children,” the authors stated.

U.S. Shattered Global Record for Most New COVID-19 Cases Yesterday

The U.S. reported 1.35 million to 141,000 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, January 10, 2022. That’s the highest record total for any country in the world. Previously the figure was 1.03 million cases, on January 3, 2022. According to Reuters, hospitalizations also hit a record high, doubling in three weeks. There were 136,604 people hospitalized with COVID-19, beating out a record of 132,051 in January 2021.

The Omicron variant appears to cause less severe disease, but the significantly higher infectiousness is producing huge numbers of people infected, which is overloading hospital systems. Reuters reports an average of 1,700 COVID-19-related deaths per day, an increase from 1,400 recently but comparable to levels seen earlier this winter.

States and healthcare systems are responding. Delaware, for example, implemented a universal indoor mask mandate.

“I know we’re all exhausted by this pandemic,” said Delaware Gov. John Carney. “But at the level of hospitalizations we’re seeing, Delawareans who need emergency care might not be able to get it. That’s just a fact. It’s time for everyone to pitch in and do what works. Wear your mask indoors. Avoid gatherings or expect to get and spread Covid. Get your vaccine and, if eligible, get boosted. That’s how we’ll get through this surge without endangering more lives.”

Singapore Study: Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech Best, Sinovac and Sinopharm Worst

Singapore released data from real-world studies in the country on how different COVID-19 vaccines were performing. They found that the vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech were most effective at preventing deaths, while the vaccines produced by Chinese developers Sinopharm and Sinovac were not as effective. The study found that in deaths per 100,000 people, 11 were for people vaccinated with Sinovac; 7.8 for Sinopharm; 6.2 for Pfizer-BioNTech and one for Moderna.

Both Chinese vaccines use inactivated viruses, which appear to be less effective against breakthrough infections and the Omicron variant. Both companies report they are developing vaccines using mRNA technology, such as that deployed by Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech. Problems with the study include a relatively small sample size and the fact that most people in Singapore received the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna shots.

BioNTech and InstaDeep Developed and Tested Variant Early Warning System

Germany’s BioNTech and the UK’s InstaDeep developed a new computational approach to analyze global sequencing data to predict high-risk variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The Early Warning System (EWS) leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to calculate immune escape and fitness metrics, structural modeling of the virus’s spike protein and algorithms to flag potential high-risk variants. A test of the system identified more than 90% of the World Health Organization (WHO)-designated variants an average of two months in advance. Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Theta, Eta and Omicron were identified by the EWS the same week their sequences were first uploaded.

“With the advanced computational methods we have been developing over the past months we can analyze sequence information of the Spike protein and rank new variants according to their predicted immune escape and ACE2 binding score,” said Dr. Ugur Sahin, Chief Executive Officer and CO-Founder of BioNTech. “Early flagging of potential high-risk variants could be an effective tool to alert researchers, vaccine developers, health authorities and policymakers, thereby providing more time to respond to new variants of concern.”

CanSino Bio Presents Encouraging Data for Inhaled COVID-19 Vaccine as Booster

China’s CanSino Biologics published clinical data on the safety and immunogenicity of its Recombinant COVID-19 Vaccine for Inhalation Covidecia as a booster. The study suggests the heterologous booster with a single dose of the Inhalation Convidecia for adults 18 and over who received two doses of inactivated COVID-19 vaccine produced a higher neutralizing antibody level than people with a homogeneous booster of inactivated vaccine. They view the needle-free, non-invasive approach to quickly booster a population.

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