BusinessDay

Omicron: Moderna booster jabs 37% effective

Results from Moderna’s early trial to build an Omicron-specific booster dose have shown that the prototype of the authorised booster vaccine is 37 percent effective against Omicron.

A higher formulated dose was found to be approximately 83 percent more efficacious compared with pre-boost levels and better at increasing neutralising antibodies levels.

The biotechnology company in an announcement on Monday said it was advancing its strategy for booster vaccine candidates to include different levels of formulation that can beat unusually high transmission rates of emerging new variants of concern such as Delta and Omicron.

“The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant is concerning to all. However, these data showing that the currently authorised Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralising antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels are reassuring,” Stéphane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, said.

Based on the strength of neutralising solution generated by Moderna’s candidates, the rapid pace of omicron expansion, and the increased complexity of deploying a new vaccine, the company said it would focus its near-term efforts on omicron booster doses. It will equally continue to assess the breadth and durability of neutralising antibodies from the multivalent booster candidates in the months ahead.

There is a global rush to get ahead of omicron’s unprecedented spate of infection that is driving a surge in demand for booster shots, which can reactivate vaccine protectionism in producing countries.

Though mild, omicron’s ability to escape the body’s immunity wall has further reinforced the role that booster shots can play to pare infections, hospitalisation and deaths.

Read also: Omicron: Buhari takes booster dose, as 8m Nigerians get vaccinated

Nigeria has received about 4 million doses of original Moderna vaccine, most in donations from the United States, but none is variant-specific or can wade off omicron.

The National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) approved the rollout of booster doses on December 10 as part of its vaccine stock nearing expiry and uptake crawled.

But there is only much its current stock can do to make boosters available in a country where less than 10 percent of the population has received full or partial vaccination.

Some analysts say Nigeria might eventually over-vaccinate a few while the larger populace stay unvaccinated – crushing its earlier goal of achieving herd immunity in 70 percent of the population.

Although vaccines may not offer as much protection against omicron as they have against previous variants of the coronavirus, they still work. Studies show while two doses may not be strong enough to prevent infection, a booster shot of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine produces virus-fighting antibodies capable of tackling omicron.

Antibody levels naturally drop over time, and a booster revved them back up again, by 25 times for Pfizer’s extra shot and 37 times for Moderna’s.

No one knows exactly what level is high enough — or how long it will be before antibody levels begin dropping again.

After a booster, the protection against an omicron infection still appears about 20 percent less than protection against the delta variant, noted Egon Ozer of Northwestern University, according to AP.

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