- The best antibody protection came from a series of two doses of one of the mRNA vaccines, either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, followed by an mRNA booster.
- A COVID-19 booster injection created “significantly higher” antibodies than vaccination followed by omicron infection, according to the Cell study published this week.
- The recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, even with an mRNA booster, did not get the “width of response” of people with three mRNA doses, the study found.
New evidence underscores the importance of boosters against omicron, with a booster to the mRNA vaccine offering the best protection against the rapidly spreading variant.
People who received either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine series with two doses of COVID-19 and then a booster achieved “potent” neutralization against omicron, a paper published Thursday in the journal Cell.
The initial two-dose vaccine regimen does not produce antibodies capable of fully recognizing and neutralizing the omicron variant, researchers at the Ragon Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT and Harvard found.
They noted that while omicron is better at getting past vaccine-created immunity, people with breakthrough cases have milder disease, which could be because their first vaccination helped create long-lasting immunity, the researchers hypothesized.
“Even if antibodies can’t keep us from getting infected with omicron, other aspects of the immune response can keep us from getting very sick,” said Alejandro Balazs, who studies how to build immunity against infectious diseases and develop the immune system at the Ragon Institute. senior author of the newspaper.
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The Food and Drug Administration’s goal for all COVID-19 vaccines is protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death. All three COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the United States — Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — have been remarkably successful in achieving that goal.
However, emerging data shows that vaccine effectiveness declines over time and that as new mutated variants emerge, the vaccines may be less effective.
To study this, the researchers created a harmless version of omicron, known as a “pseudovirus,” which they could use in the lab to evaluate the vaccines’ effectiveness.
They then collected blood samples from 239 vaccinated people and used them to measure how well different vaccine combinations produced neutralizing antibodies against omicron, delta and original COVID-19.
The best antibody protection came from a series of two doses of one of the mRNA vaccines, either Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna, followed by an mRNA booster.
Just getting two doses of an mRNA vaccine without a booster was “sub-optimal for inducing neutralizing responses to the omicron variant,” according to the paper.
Getting infected with omicron after being vaccinated instead of getting a boost wasn’t nearly as effective, they found. The booster produced “significantly higher” antibodies than vaccination followed by an infection.
WHAT ABOUT US? Recipients of J&J vaccines ‘question our protection’ against COVID – and await a third injection
A South African study published Dec. 29 found that recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine who received a J&J booster six to nine months after their first vaccination saw the vaccine’s efficacy against hospitalization increase by 63% up to 84%.
The Cell study found that for participants who received one dose of J&J vaccine, a boost with an mRNA vaccine produced “significantly higher” protection than those who received just one dose of J&J vaccine.
Still, those J&J plus an mRNA booster participants still didn’t get the “width of response” of people given three doses of mRNA vaccine, the Cell study said.
“Our results suggest that these recipients of Ad26.COV2.S (the J&J vaccine) may benefit from additional mRNA vaccine doses with the potential to further increase titers and broaden their neutralizing activity,” they wrote.
The mechanism behind the findings is still being worked out, the researchers said. Boosters can dramatically improve immune protection against omicron because they make antibodies more effective by helping them bind more tightly to the spike protein on the cell surface.
Or they can generate antibodies that target regions of the spike protein common to all forms of COVID-19. Or both may be true, said the paper’s lead author, Dr. Wilfredo F. Garcia-Beltran, a clinician-scientist at the Ragon Institute.
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