Thursday, January 13, 2022

Pfizer boss says two doses provide ‘limited protection, if any’ against Omicron

Albert Bourla made the comments in an interview with Yahoo Finance after the company announced a new Omicron-specific version of the vaccine would be ready by March, with doses already being manufactured.

“We know that the two doses of the vaccine offer very limited protection, if any,” Dr Bourla said.

“The three doses with a booster, they offer reasonable protection against hospitalisation and deaths – against deaths, I think, very good, and less protection against infection. Now we are working on a new version of our vaccine, the 1.1, let me put it that way, that will cover Omicron as well. Of course we are waiting to have the final results, [but] the vaccine will be ready in March.”

In a separate interview with CNBC, Dr Bourla said Pfizer’s new vaccine would also target other variants currently circulating.

“The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection particularly against infections,” he said.

“Because the protection against the hospitalisations and the severe disease – it is reasonable right now, with the current vaccines as long as you having, let’s say, the third dose.”

He added that it also remains unclear whether a fourth shot will become necessary, with Pfizer set to conduct experiments on the issue.

Omicron, which first emerged in southern Africa in November, quickly swept the world, overtaking Delta to become the most dominant strain and casting concern over the efficacy of existing vaccines.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – both of which have been distributed in Australia – are only about 10 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron 20 weeks after the second dose, a study from the UK Health Security Agency found.

While two doses still provide good protection against severe illness, the study found that booster shots increased protection against symptomatic infection to 75 per cent.

Pfizer claims its own studies show a third dose of its vaccine produces a 25-fold increase in neutralising antibodies against the new strain.

Early in 2021, Dr Bourla had said data showed Pfizer’s vaccine “was 100 per cent effective against severe Covid-19”.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Nobel prize-winning virologist Luc Montagnier and constitutional scholar Jed Rubenfeld argued the rise of Omicron had made the Biden administration’s vaccine mandates “obsolete”.

“It would be irrational, legally indefensible and contrary to the public interest for government to mandate vaccines absent any evidence that the vaccines are effective in stopping the spread of the pathogen they target,” they wrote.

“Yet that’s exactly what’s happening here.”

They pointed to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) position on vaccine mandates, which states that “if mandatory vaccination is considered necessary to interrupt transmission chains and prevent harm to others, there should be sufficient evidence that the vaccine is efficacious in preventing serious infection and/or transmission”.

For Omicron, they noted, “there is as yet no such evidence” and moreover, “the little data we have suggests the opposite”.

“One preprint study found that after 30 days the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines no longer had any statistically significant positive effect against Omicron infection, and after 90 days, their effect went negative – i.e. vaccinated people were more susceptible to Omicron infection,” they wrote.

“Confirming this negative efficacy finding, data from Denmark and the Canadian province of Ontario indicate that vaccinated people have higher rates of Omicron infection than unvaccinated people.”

Dr Montagnier and Mr Rubenfeld added that while there was “some early evidence” that boosters may reduce Omicron infections, “the effect appears to wane quickly, and we don’t know if repeated boosters would be an effective response to the surge of Omicron”.

Their comments come after the UK’s head vaccine adviser, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, who helped develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, called for an end to ongoing mass vaccination.

“It really is not affordable, sustainable or probably even needed to vaccinate everyone on the planet every four to six months,” Prof Pollard told BBC Radio 4’s Today program. “In the future, we need to target the vulnerable.”

On Monday, WHO called on vaccine makers to review the “strain composition” of the current vaccines in the face of Omicron.

“The Technical Advisory Group on Covid-19 Vaccine Composition considers that Covid-19 vaccines that have high impact on prevention of infection and transmission, in addition to the prevention of severe disease and death, are needed and should be developed,” WHO said in a statement.

“Until such vaccines are available, and as the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, the composition of current Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by variants of concern, including Omicron and future variants.”


Expert reveals Covid-19 causing fewer hospitalisations than influenza

Coronavirus is sending fewer people to the hospital than a bad flu season despite cases threatening to top 100,000 around Australia.

Australian National University professor Peter Collignon said it was important to have perspective when looking at Covid hospitalisation and ICU numbers.

He said there were fewer hospital patients with Covid than those admitted with influenza during a recent winter.

'We're seeing a lot of people in hospital and a lot of people in ICU but we need to keep it in perspective,' he said on the Today show Wednesday.

'It's still less than what we often see in winter with influenza, for instance, a number of years ago, and it seems to be less of an issue than even six months ago with the proportion of infected people going into hospital.'

Professor Collignon said Australia's high vaccination rate meant a smaller proportion of people required care in hospital, or dying.

'So much so, that if you're vaccinated your risk is probably similar to a season of influenza, it's the one or two million unvaccinated adults we still have who are disproportionately in hospital and disproportionately in ICU,' he said.

The expert reminded people worried about being infected with the virus that Australians didn't have access to vaccines a year ago.

He said those who had their booster shot had a 'much, much lower chance of coming into serious grief than a year ago'.

'A lot of us are going to get Covid over the next year or two, but the consequences now for serious disease - which is what matters - is so much less than a year ago, we need to come to terms with that,' he said.

He said it was important to get more staff on the ground, decrease the fear level in society and ensure those vulnerable were at 'the front of the queue' for care.

Professor Collingnon was asked when he predicted Australia would hit the peak of the Omicron wave, and if infections would get worse before they got better.

'My view is that it should start flattening out in at least in the next week, a lot of the cases we're seeing is mainly being spread by people in their 20s and 30s, and you can see why because they were locked down for so long,' he replied.

'So as people are moving around less, more on holiday and interacting with large numbers less I think the numbers will come down.'

He said hospitalisations tended to lag five to seven days after infections levelled out, which he said were high, but not exponential.

Professor Collignon added that data observed from the Delta variant revealed that if a vaccinated person is naturally infected with Covid they build better immunity against the virus than what a booster shot could provide.

'Providing you're vaccinated, and if you're unlucky enough to get Omicron, you are likely to have longer-lasting immunity than even with a booster,' he explained.

'Natural infection tends to give you long-lasting immunity mainly because you're exposed to more parts of the virus rather than just the spike protein, which is the vaccine strategy.'

He urged unvaccinated people not to attempt to be infected naturally for the benefit of immunity as the chances of death or serious illness were much higher.

Experts predict Australia Day could be the day Omicron finally peaks in the major cities and the country could return to normal after that.

Major Australian cities could see a dramatic drop off in Covid-19 infections by the end of January as the Omicron surge 'runs out' of 'core' carriers to infect.

While new Covid cases topped 84,000 Australia-wide on Tuesday - including 38,000 in Victoria, 26,000 in NSW and 20,466 in Queensland - there are underlying signs that tally could dramatically improve by the end of this month.

So many of Omicron major carriers, people aged between 20 and 30, have been exposed already that the virus would began failing to reproduce when it meets people with immunity.

Initially that will happen in hotspots where the virus has run rampant, including areas of Melbourne and Sydney, and in Newcastle.

Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, predicted the wave would start to turn around in about two weeks, before the end of January




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