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Experts suggest ‘updated’ vaccines could help fight Omicron variant

Bottles of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine. (Picture: Frederic J. Brown/ AFP)

Bottles of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine. (Picture: Frederic J. Brown/ AFP)

Published Jan 21, 2022


While South Africa has passed the Covid-19 fourth wave dominated by the Omicron variant, many countries around the world continue to weather escalating infections. This has led experts to suggest that “updated” vaccines are necessary to fight the more-transmissible variant.

Earlier this week, a study conducted by South African and German scientists found that breakthrough infections with the Omicron variant occurred in a small group of people who had received three doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

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Head of the Division of Medical Virology at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and author of the study, Professor Wolfgang Preiser, said that while none of the people infected had severe disease, booster shots were not able to prevent the Omicron variant.

“The lesson is, I suppose, that we need ‘updated’ vaccines that include Omicron or ideally a wider range of possible virus variants. Some are even talking of a vaccine against any kind of coronavirus,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said in a statement that its technical advisory group suggested Covid-19 vaccines might need to be updated to ensure they are effective against other new variants.

“For the Omicron variant, the mutational profile and preliminary data indicate that vaccine effectiveness will be reduced against symptomatic disease caused by the Omicron variant, but protection against severe disease is more likely to be preserved,” according to the health organisation.

“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.”

Preiser said that vaccination and booster shots would still provide protection against severe disease.

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“While one can argue that numbers (in the study) are too small to be sure about this, it has in the meantime been confirmed that full vaccination and especially boosted vaccination gives very good protection against severe disease,” he said.