With the Omicron variant spreading across the country, many are wondering whether or not the current COVID-19 vaccines are still effective at protecting individuals against the illness.
At Crimson Care in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dr. Ramesh Peramsetty dug into the data to learn more about the Omicron variant and vaccine effectiveness so he could better care for his patients and provide them with updated information.
Take a look at what he discovered from the leading science journals and news sources to better understand the COVID-19 variant that’s spreading rapidly across the globe.
What is the Omicron Variant?
First, as we’ve mentioned in other blogs regarding COVID-19 variants, it’s completely normal—and expected—for new variants to develop as the virus continues to spread.
Since its emergence, COVID-19 has continued to evolve and the World Health Organization has named five variants as SARS-CoV-2 Variants of Concern (VOC) to date—Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron—due to their impact on transmission, disease severity, or capacity for immune escape.
The Omicron variant, or variant B.1.1.529 as labeled by WHO, was first identified in South Africa in late November. Scientists presented Omicron to the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), who determined that the variant is characterized by several mutations. These mutations may impact how it behaves, such as how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes, spurring the international health agency to designate Omicron as a variant of concern (VoC).
More specifically, according to Nature, Omicron carries a large number of mutations in its spike protein—the prime target of immune responses—and some of these changes, when present in other variants, affect the ability of antibodies to recognize the virus and block infection.
How Common is the Omicron Variant?
As of early January, more than 95% of reported coronavirus cases were due to the Omicron variant, according to the CDC. And cases are continuing to rapidly rise in numbers across the United States, with over 11,000 new cases reported in Alabama alone on January 12th.
Furthermore, the Omicron variant is growing among those who are double vaccinated or previously had COVID-19. A report by Imperial College London indicated that the risk of reinfection with Omicron was 5.4 times greater than the Delta variant. The risk is even higher for those who are unvaccinated, which is why it’s never been more important to receive your COVID-19 vaccination.
Are Current COVID-19 Vaccines Effective Against the Omicron Variant?
While researchers are still trying to learn everything they can about the Omicron variant, early studies suggest that the vaccines are significantly less effective at preventing infection, but still protect individuals from severe disease, hospitalization, and death.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a two-dose regimen of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was 70 percent effective against hospitalization with Omicron. This echoed the results of a real-life study from South Africa which found that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine still protected people from severe disease.
Additionally, researchers found that two doses provided around 30 to 40 perfect protection against infection. This was a drop from about 93 percent and 80 percent, respectively, for the Delta variant.
Though no studies have shown if the Moderna vaccine is effective against Omicron, scientists believe it may be similar to Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, as both are mRNA vaccines.
While this may seem as though the vaccines are not worth the effort, newer data is confirming that a third dose, otherwise known as a booster shot, increases antibody production and improves effectiveness against infection to around 75 percent, and 88 percent for severe disease.
This is why it’s extremely important to get both the two-shot vaccine and your booster. At Crimson Care, we are administering the Moderna vaccine and boosters to those 18 years of age and older. Take the next step to protect your community. Please schedule an appointment to receive your COVID-19 vaccine in Tuscaloosa today.
Additional COVID-19 Services at Crimson Care
Do you need to test for COVID-19, receive an antibody treatment, or get vaccinated for COVID-19? Dr. Peramsetty and his experienced team offer these COVID-19 services and more at Crimson Care in Tuscaloosa!