The approval of the new Omikron boosters creates a lot of uncertainty. Because how well they work against the dominant BA.5 variant has yet to be seen. A study from Portugal is now providing promising information: BA.1 infected people there have hardly been infected with BA.5.
Just a few days ago, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gave the green light to the new omicron boosters from Moderna and Biontech/Pfizer. The catch is that the new vaccines are adapted to the BA.1 variant, which no longer plays any role in the infection process in Germany or other European countries. Because now the even more contagious BA.5 variant dominates the infection process.
Many experts therefore doubt Karl Lauterbach’s hope that the new vaccines could mean the end of the pandemic. “I don’t think that the new vaccine will become a game changer, i.e. that the situation can really turn around,” says Clemens Wendtner, chief physician of infectiology at the Munich Clinic Schwabing to the “Augsburger Allgemeine”.
Since BA.5 now accounts for 95 percent of all infections, you can see with the naked eye that the new vaccines are coming too late, said the doctor who treated the first corona patients in Germany. From his experience, many people would have waited for the new vaccines instead of getting the second booster with the existing vaccines. A mistake, especially for those with previous illnesses who are particularly at risk.
Studies to date indicate a good protective effect against BA.5, but to a lesser extent than against BA.1. However, there is still no data on the actual protection against infection, serious illness and death. These can only be ascertained when the vaccines are widely used. However, a new study from Portugal, which was published in the ” New England Journal of Medicine ” at the end of August, provides surprising findings: From these, one can in turn deduce that vaccines adapted to BA.1 could be more effective against BA.5 than supposed.
This is because BA.5 was previously assumed to partially bypass the immunity generated by BA.1 and BA.2. But the data from Portugal now shows that people who would have been infected with BA.1 or BA.2 in the first wave were hardly infected in the BA.5 wave. The researchers came to this conclusion after evaluating the data from the National Corona Register (SINAVE), which records all reported cases in the country.
Portugal was surprised by a violent BA.1 and BA.2 wave earlier in the year – although the country already had a high vaccination rate at that time. 98 percent of the study population was already basic immunized and most infections were therefore breakthrough infections.
The BA.5 wave appeared just three months after the first omicron wave. It was therefore also assumed that a BA.1/BA.2 infection did not provide sufficient protection against further infection.
However, the analysis showed that this was not the case. A previous infection offered the best protection against further infection with BA.5
The protective effect of other types was therefore significantly lower:
However, the authors point out that the infections with the variants that existed before Omikron were also longer in the past and that the immunity may have declined as a result. Nevertheless, the study gives hope that the new vaccines, which have been approved as boosters for a few days, do the same and still offer greater protection against BA.5, although adapted to BA.1.
Both the new booster from Biontech/Pfizer and from Moderna are so-called bivalent vaccines. That means: In addition to BA.1, they also work against the original form of the corona virus. These vaccines cannot be used for basic immunization (first and second vaccination).
However, Biontech/Pfizer has already applied to the EMA for approval for a new vaccine adapted to BA.4 and BA.5. Approval could take place as early as September. Health Minister Karl Lauterbach recommends not waiting for this vaccine.
Many medical professionals see it that way. Anyone who wants to be vaccinated now is not doing anything wrong with the BA.1 vaccines, said Johannes Nießen, chairman of the Federal Association of Physicians in Public Health Services, to newspapers from the Funke media group. In addition, it cannot even be said at this point in time which of the two types of vaccine provides better protection in autumn and winter. Because that depends, among other things, on the then prevailing variants.
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Unlike Karl Lauterbach, who would prefer that everyone receive a second booster, physicians advocate that only risk groups should be given a second booster. However, they do not consider a population-wide deployment to be necessary. “The new adapted vaccines are suitable for groups for which the Standing Vaccination Commission (Stiko) is already recommending a second booster vaccination. These are people over 60, groups with risk factors and healthcare workers who have not yet received a fourth vaccination, ”said Leif Sander, vaccine expert at the Berlin Charité and member of the federal government’s Corona Expert Council. Anyone who had a breakthrough infection in the summer initially does not need an additional booster and should wait at least three months.