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Antibodies From Covid Vaccines May Be Weaker Against Omicron, Study Finds

Published 2 months ago
By Forbes

TOPLINE

Antibodies produced by Covid-19 vaccines and booster shots may be less effective at defending against the omicron variant than previous coronavirus strains, a study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University found—the latest data from the winter’s record-breaking Covid-19 surge.

KEY FACTS

The study, first published April 7, examined the antibodies of 18 vaccinated and boosted patients who were diagnosed with Covid-19 between late December and mid-January, when the omicron variant accounted for over 90% of Covid-19 cases.

Researchers found that while these patients had high levels of antibodies that stop the coronavirus’ spike protein from binding to the surfaces of cells, the antibodies “didn’t carry out that function as well when responding to the omicron strain” compared to the original strain of the virus, Dr. Joel Blankson, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and senior author of the study, said in a release.

The study also compared the immune system responses of vaccinated and infected people with a control group of vaccinated people who hadn’t contracted the coronavirus, and found both groups had similar levels of antibodies.

These results differ from earlier studies that showed vaccinated people who contracted the virus’ original alpha variant had lower levels of antibodies than people who were not infected, Blankson said.

However, the study found vaccinated patients with breakthrough cases of omicron produced strong responses of immune cells called “T cells,” which Blankson says might explain why vaccinated people often experience mild Covid-19 symptoms.

BIG NUMBER

57.7%. That’s the portion of Americans who tested positive for antibodies produced by coronavirus infection in February, up from just 33.5% in December, before the omicron surge, according to data released by the CDC Tuesday. The study implies that over half of the country—including three-in-four children—have had Covid-19 at some point. The massive jump in natural antibodies aligned with the country’s record-breaking winter surge, when over 800,000 new cases were reported each day.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Both Pfizer and Moderna are developing omicron-specific vaccine booster boosters that could potentially produce antibodies better-equipped to counter the variant, with Moderna beginning phase 2 trials of its booster shot last month. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said earlier this month he hopes the company will have the modified vaccine ready by the fall.

Full coverage and live updates on the Coronavirus

By Mason Bissada, Forbes Staff

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