The Omicron coronavirus variant is able to evade protection from mRNA COVID-19 vaccines such as those manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna, a South African study has found.
A study published on January 18 in The Lancet examined some of the first documented breakthrough cases of the highly transmissible Omicron strain that emerged in South Africa in late October 2021.
Between late November 2021 and early December 2021, a group of seven Germans who had received three vaccine doses, including at least two doses of an mRNA vaccine, visited Cape Town, South Africa, and subsequently developed symptomatic COVID-19. None of the individuals had reported a history of COVID-19 infection. COVID-19 is the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
The cases among the group were the first documented breakthrough infections with the Omicron variant in fully vaccinated individuals after receiving booster vaccine doses, according to the study.
“The presence of this group from Germany provided a unique opportunity to study Omicron breakthrough infections in individuals with mRNA vaccine boosters,” the study reads.
The authors noted that their results are limited to “a low number of individuals in relatively young and otherwise healthy individuals.”
“This case series adds further evidence that omicron, as predicted, is capable of avoiding immunity induced by mRNA vaccines in vivo,” the study reads.
The researchers also said their findings underscore the importance of adopting measures to curb the spread of the virus, such as social distancing and mask wearing.
COVID-19 vaccines were initially trumpeted as a way to prevent people from becoming infected with the CCP virus, and officials had hoped it would lead to herd immunity, a situation in which the virus would be greatly reduced or even eliminated.
These hopes have not been dashed, mainly because the vaccines proved increasingly ineffective in preventing infection, even before the advent of the Omicron variant.
World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on January 18 that new variants of the new coronavirus are likely to emerge, given the current high levels of transmission.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical director of COVID-19, said at a briefing in Geneva that the Omicron variant is unlikely to be the last strain, as the virus is still “circulating at a very intense level” around the world.
“We hear a lot of people suggest that Omicron is the last variant, that it’s over after this. And that’s not the case,” she said.
Van Kerkhove said countries should continue measures to slow the transmission of the virus to reduce serious illness and death, such as wearing masks, taking social distances and avoiding overcrowded areas.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on January 17 that research efforts should now focus on COVID-19 vaccines that can provide broad protection against new virus strains.
“We don’t want to get into a whack-a-mole for every variant where you have to make a booster against a particular variant,” Fauci said. “You’re going to chase it forever.”
Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.
Discussion about this post