Pfizer Begins Testing Omicron Vaccine in Adults

Pfizer is recruiting healthy individuals in a study to compare a reformulated COVID-19 vaccine versus the more infectious omicron version.

The trial was revealed on Tuesday by Pfizer and its partner BioNTech.

Vaccine producers for COVID-19 have been upgrading their vaccines to better match omicron in case global health authorities feel it’s necessary.

Even among persons who have been vaccinated, Omicron is more likely than earlier variations to induce illness, although it’s unclear if a change to the vaccine composition will be requested. The following are some of the problems that regulators are considering: Some of the initial areas hit by an omicron outbreak are already seeing the mutation fade — and there’s no way of knowing whether the next variety will be similar to omicron or completely different.

The initial immunizations are still effective in preventing serious disease and death. Adding a booster dosage increases that protection and boosts the odds of avoiding even a milder infection, according to studies conducted in the United States and abroad.

Another factor to consider when evaluating if immunizations need to be updated is the following: A new paper out of the United States on Tuesday echoes findings from the United Kingdom and South Africa that omicron infections produce less severe disease, at least in part due to the fact that so many people have some immunity either to vaccination or earlier infection.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 13 percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients ended up in critical care during the omicron surge, compared to around 18 percent during two previous waves.

Pfizer’s vaccine research leader, Kathrin Jansen, said in a statement that “we understand the need to be prepared in the event that this protection wanes over time and to possibly help address omicron and new variations in the future.”

Up to 1,420 participants between the ages of 18 and 55 will participate in the new U.S. trial, which will evaluate the modified omicron-based vaccines for use as a booster or main immunization. Researchers will compare the safety of the modified vaccination to the original injections and see how it affects the immune system.

As participants receive numerous vaccination doses and researchers monitor how long virus-fighting antibodies persist at high levels following an omicron-adapted dosage vs a conventional booster, the whole study results will take months.

Pfizer’s CEO told CNBC earlier this month that certain omicron-matched dosages might be ready as soon as March. However, the company’s “at-risk” production does not imply that such dosages will be made available to the general population. Pfizer and other vaccine producers have also brewed and tested experimental dosages to match prior versions, modifications that weren’t needed in the end but provided useful experience in refining the formula.

One set of around 600 participants who had two doses of the existing Pfizer vaccine three to six months ago will receive one or two omicron-based injections as boosters for the new research. Another 600 people will receive a fourth dosage of the Pfizer vaccine, either the conventional or the omicron-matched form, if they have already had three ordinary doses.

Unvaccinated participants will also be enrolled in the trial and will receive three doses of the omicron-based vaccine.

Pfizer expects to produce 4 billion vaccine doses in 2022, and the company said Tuesday that the quantity won’t alter if an omicron-adapted version is required.

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