Pfizer opens study of COVID-19 shots reformulated to target Omicron
Pfizer has begun a study comparing its original COVID-19 vaccine with doses specially tweaked to match the hugely contagious Omicron variant.
Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced the study on Tuesday.
COVID-19 vaccine makers have been updating their shots to better match Omicron in case global health authorities decide the change is needed.
Omicron is more likely than previous variants to cause infection, even in people who’ve been vaccinated, but it’s not yet clear that a change to the vaccine recipe will be ordered. Among the issues regulators are weighing: Some of the first places to face an Omicron surge already are seeing the mutant wane — and there’s no way to know if the next variant that arises will resemble Omicron or be substantially different.
The original vaccines still offer good protection against severe illness and death. Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere have made clear that adding a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding a milder infection.
“We recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future,” Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer’s vaccine research chief, said in a statement.
World health officials are offering hope that the ebbing of the Omicron wave could usher in a new, more manageable phase of the COVID-19 pandemic
The new U.S. study is enrolling up to 1,420 healthy adults, ages 18 to 55, to test the updated Omicron-based shots for use as a booster or for primary vaccinations. Researchers will examine the tweaked vaccine’s safety and how it stimulates the immune system in comparison to the original shots.
Full study results will take many months as volunteers receive multiple vaccine doses — and as researchers measure how long virus-fighting antibodies remain at high levels after an Omicron-adapted dose versus the regular booster.
Pfizer’s chief executive officer told CNBC earlier this month that the company could have some Omicron-matched doses ready as early as March. But doing what the company calls at-risk manufacturing doesn’t mean those doses will be rolled out to the public. Pfizer and other vaccine makers also have brewed and tested experimental doses to match previous variants, changes that ultimately weren’t needed but offered valuable practice at tweaking the recipe.
For the new study, one group of about 600 volunteers who received two doses of the current Pfizer vaccine three to six months ago will receive either one or two Omicron-based shots as boosters. Another 600 who’ve already gotten three regular doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be given a fourth dose of either the regular vaccine or the Omicron-matched version.
Three U.S. studies offer more evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are standing up to the Omicron variant, at least among people who got booster shots.
The study also will enroll some unvaccinated volunteers who will receive three doses of the Omicron-based vaccine.
Pfizer plans to produce 4 billion vaccine doses in 2022, and said Tuesday the amount isn’t expected to change if an Omicron-adapted version is needed.
Get our free Coronavirus Today newsletter
Sign up for the latest news, best stories and what they mean for you, plus answers to your questions.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.