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Omicron and COVID-19 Booster: Everything You Need to Know

The discovery of the Omicron variant raised a lot of concerns all around the world. Just as it appeared, we were putting the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic behind us, but this new variant put things in jeopardy again as it spread rapidly in 34 countries of the world. First detected in southern Africa last month, the new variant is now called the "most concerning" since the Delta variant.
Scientists are still studying the characteristics of this newly identified variant of COVID-19, and it might be a couple of weeks before we get a clear picture. Still, early evidence suggests that Omicron has an increased risk of reinfection compared to other highly transmissible variants.
Booster Shots, COVID-19, Omicron
Another worrying fact about the Omicron variant is that has over 30 mutations in the parts of the virus targeted by existing vaccines, which may reduce vaccine efficiency. Currently, studies are being conducted to determine how effective antibodies are at neutralizing the new variant.
BioNTech and Pfizer recently said in a press release that a three-shot course of their COVID-19 vaccine has shown the ability to neutralize the new Omicron variant in a preliminary laboratory test. At this point, there are no significant data to know how vaccines from Moderna (MRNA.O), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N), and other drugmakers work against Omicron, but we should get some updates from them within a few days.
The good news is that, thus far, no severe symptoms nor fatalities have been recorded with the Omicron variant. But there’s still a worry that it can break the protective force of antibodies and herd immunity of the COVID-19 vaccine. So the question is - can the variant still cause harm to fully vaccinated people?
The report from Pfizer does seem to be an early signal that booster shots could be key to protection against infection from Omicron and other variants of concern.

Why Do You Need COVID-19 Booster Shots?

Booster Shots, COVID-19,
COVID-19 booster shots aren’t a new idea. Even when COVID-19 vaccines were first authorized, most scientists had recommended that we get at least one additional shot, known as a prime-boost strategy, to complete the primary dose. This was said despite the vaccines’ excellent initial efficacy because antibody levels from vaccines tend to wane after several months. Furthermore, this type of booster is required for many infectious disease vaccines to effectuate long-lasting immunity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had already advised all vaccinated individuals 18 years and older to get a booster dose for additional protection. This recommendation has now been reaffirmed with the emergence of the Omicron variant.
So far, real-world data from Israel and the United Kingdom suggest that boosters of the mRNA-based vaccines help reduce a person’s risk of catching SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Moreover, daily case counts remain low in Israel, which became the first country in the world to make boosters available to all. This does indicate that booster shots might help stall the spread of the pandemic onwards.
Further, a study published in The Lancet, which assessed booster shots in about 2,900 people in the UK, showed that most COVID-19 boosters strengthen immunity. The participants in the clinical trial were all over 30 years old who have never tested positive for the coronavirus and had been fully vaccinated with either the Astra Zeneca vaccine or Comirnaty, BioNTech, and Pfizer’s shot.
The authors of the study recommended that national immunization committees “establish criteria for choosing which booster vaccines to use in their populations.”

Will We Now Need COVID Boosters Regularly?

Booster Shots, COVID-19, vaccination
Whether we would need regular boosters or not remains to be seen, as we’re still learning as we move through the pandemic. But experts suggest that we'll likely be requiring booster doses at some point. There’s also a possibility that COVID-19 boosters will be given on an annual basis, similarly to influenza vaccines.
Currently, experts say that these are the people who might need a booster dose sooner than others:
* People who are above 65 years of age.
* Diabetic patients and chronic kidney- and liver disease patients.
* People who are more likely to be in contact with patients, e.g. healthcare workers.
* People with malignancies, and those who are on radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
Basically, those who have poor immune responses should consider getting an additional dose because their vaccine-induced immunity is likely to wane faster, scientists say. The important point is that, so far, any reduction in the effectiveness of the boosters has not been seen. Therefore, it might be crucial for other countries to start implementing the booster shot strategy to curb the pandemic and stay ahead of the threat of emerging variants.
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