Pfizer and partner BioNTech have started testing a COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the , the companies said Tuesday. The move is part of a larger conversation about whether we’ll need variant-specific COVID-19 vaccines as time goes on.
“Staying vigilant against the virus requires us to identify new approaches for people to maintain a high level of protection,” Pfizer’s head of vaccine research and development, Kathrin Jansen, said in a news release. Jansen added that developing and investigating variant-based vaccines is “essential in our efforts towards this goal.”
The trial includes up to 1,420 adults in three groups. One group is made up of people who originally got two doses of Pfizer’s general COVID-19 vaccine, the second group is people who had three doses, and the third group is people who didn’t get any doses. People in the different groups will get a different number of doses of Pfizer’s omicron-focused vaccine.
Though the original COVID vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death from COVID-19, they’re not as effective at preventing infection caused by the new omicron variant. To restore the protection,or an extra dose of COVID-19 vaccine are recommended for everyone age 12 and up by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And recent data shows just how well that’s working. When the omicron variant was emerging in the US in late 2021, adults who received a booster shot were five times less likely to be infected compared with unvaccinated adults. Third doses or boosters of Pfizer or Moderna were also 90% effective at preventing hospitalization with COVID-19 when omicron was emerging, a recent report from the CDC found.
Pfizer’s omicron vaccine isn’t available yet.
Moderna is also developing an omicron-specific vaccine, and Johnson & Johnson has said the company will move ahead with efforts on a variant-specific vaccine if needed. Even if a vaccine designed for the omicron variant does prove effective and safe, some health experts have favored the idea of a universal COVID-19 vaccine over variant-specific shots, saying variant-focused vaccines require more upkeep and are harder to implement in countries with poor vaccine access.
One vaccine that’sis a pan-coronavirus vaccine developed by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, which is designed to target future strains.
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