Pfizer, BioNTech Say Third Dose Neutralizes Omicron Variant

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Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said initial lab studies show a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine neutralizes the omicron variant, results that will accelerate booster shot drives around the world. 

A booster with the current version of the vaccine raises antibodies 25-fold, providing a similar level as observed after two doses against the original virus and other variants, the companies said. So-called T-cells still provide protection against severe illness, they said.

Nonetheless, the partners said they’re confident they will have an omicron-specific version of the vaccine ready for delivery by March 2022.

News of the study outcome helped buoy the U.S. stock market, with S&P 500 futures gaining 0.3%. Pfizer shares were up 1.4% in premarket trading in New York, while shares of BioNTech were down 1.2%. 

Blood plasma from people immunized with two doses of the vaccine has a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibody levels versus omicron, when compared with the original strain of the virus, the companies said. 

The results were the latest in a series of early data to emerge over the past day, showing that a third shot can at least partly patch the holes in the body’s defenses against omicron after the initial two doses. Uncertainty over vaccine efficacy against the new variant has fueled market volatility and prompted travel restrictions since omicron was identified in southern Africa last month.

“It’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose,” Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said in a statement. The initial data show a third dose could offer still enough protection from disease, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said. 

The data are preliminary, as the partners continue to study the new variant. It’s possible that people vaccinated with two doses will still be protected against severe forms of COVID from the omicron variant, thanks to T cells that aren’t affected by the variant’s mutations, the companies said.