MIchael Hunter, MD, Column

You Need the Covid Booster

RADITIONAL COVID-19 VACCINE REGIMENS appear not to neutralize the rapidly-spreading Omicron variant. On the other hand, three mRNA vaccine doses elicit potent variant cross-neutralization, including the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

That’s the recent conclusion of researchers from Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Massachusetts General Hospital (USA).

In the journal Cell, the scientists report that traditional dosing regimens of COVID-19 vaccines available in the United States don’t produce antibodies that recognize and neutralize the Omicron variant.

If you want to see how your country is doing in the pandemic, check out this valuable resource from the World Health Organization:WHO Coronavirus (COVID-19) DashboardWorld Health Organization Coronavirus disease situation dashboard presents official daily counts of COVID-19 cases and…covid19.who.int

COVID19 — Omicron variant

On November 24, 2021, researchers reported a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, B.1.1.529, to the World Health Organization (WHO). Scientists detected the mutated virus in specimens collected on November 11, 2021, in Botswana and on November 14, 2021, in South Africa.

Two days later, the World Health Organization named the B.1.1.529 Omicron and classified it as a Variant of Concern (VOC). At the end of November, the United States designated Omicron as a VOC. On December 1, 2021, scientists confirmed the first U.S. case of Omicron.

The Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to spread more quickly than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus. We are still learning about how Omicron compares to the Delta variant, but the United States Centers for Disease Control explains that:

Anyone with Omicron infection can spread the virus to others, even if the carrier is vaccinated or does not have symptoms.

We need more data to know if Omicron infections (and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections) in people who have fully vaccinated cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants. My impression is that Omicron appears “milder,” at least among those who have had a COVID-19 booster shot.

Photo by Braňo on Unsplash

Omicron: You need the Covid booster

Scientists are still determining how well current management tools for Omicron work. While a third “booster” shot provides reasonable protection against death from the disease, I am surprised to see how much the booster is needed. Here’s why I am a bit startled:

Researchers looked at individuals who had gotten their primary vaccine series recently (less than three months), distantly (six to 12 months), or an additional “booster” dose while accounting for prior Covid-19 infection.

Neutralization of Omicron appeared undetectable in most vaccine recipients. However, for those who had had an mRNA booster vaccine, there appeared to be potent neutralization of Omicron.

To the study authors, the findings highlight the importance of additional mRNA doses to broaden neutralizing antibody responses against highly divergent SARS-CoV-2 variants.

Thank you for joining me at this look at why you need the Covid booster. It may not transmission of Covid-19, but there is a very good chance it will keep you from dying of the novel coronavirus. Oh, one more thing (a Covid-19 tracker):

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Michael Hunter, MD
I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

Michael Hunter, MD

I received an undergraduate degree from Harvard, a medical degree from Yale, and trained in radiation oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. I practice radiation oncology in the Seattle area.

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