A new research study showed that Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine isn’t as effective as expected in combating the omicron variant of the SARS-CoV-2 currently rampage in South Africa.
The new variant that was discovered a couple of weeks ago has quickly spread to other southern countries in Africa.
People who have received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine between the month of Nov. 15th and Dec. 7th had a chance of avoiding hospitalization.
Research done on this showed that the number was cut down from 93% when compared to the previous Delta variant wave.
Another research conducted by South Africa’s largest private health insurance provider, Discovery Health showed that there is protection against contracting COVID-19 – with the number dropping from 80% down to just 33% when compared to the previous wave.
The findings from the real-world analysis are some of the first about the protection vaccines offer against Omicron outside of laboratory studies, which have so far shown a reduced ability to neutralize the virus.
The study results were based on an analysis by Discovery’s clinical research and actuarial teams in collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council.
Reports about the omicron variant were shared by the South African government back in November and it quickly led to a lot of panic across the globe with many countries closing their borders against South Africa and other southern African nations due to the unknown state of the coronavirus variant.
And between the period of the announcement, the number of cases in South Africa has risen to over 20,000 with 35% of tests coming back positive in figures reported on Tuesday.
According to government reports, the rte of infection in South Africa rose to over 20,000 with about 35% of the tests coming back positive. There were 600 hospitalization and 24 deaths.
The South African study is said to be based on a 211,000 COVID-19 tests results and 78,000 of those were attributed to the Omicron variant which the WWorld Health Organization currently label as being “of concern” – it’s currently in over 60 countries worldwide.
The 78,000 cases were attributed to Omicron based on the relative prevalence of the variant within the country over the study period, but because they have not been confirmed as being the new variant the study cannot offer conclusive findings.
South African scientists sent 630 positive COVID-19 tests for genome sequencing in November to see if they were Omicron and another 61 so far in December. Last month, 78% were confirmed as Omicron and all 61 this month were the new variant.
Discovery cautioned that the study’s findings should be considered preliminary. Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health at the University of Southampton, also said there was a large degree of uncertainty for now about Omicron.
“It is important to avoid inferring too much right now from any national scenario. For example, the narrative around South Africa is that Omicron may be much milder, whereas reports out of Denmark broadly suggests the opposite,” he said.
The current vaccines used in South Africa are from Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Johnson & Johnson with over 20 million doses administered already.
J&J and the SAMRC are conducting a large real-world study of J&J’s vaccine and recent analysis has shown no deaths from Omicron, SAMRC President Glenda Gray said.
“So that’s the good news, it shows again that the vaccine is effective against severe disease and death,” she said.
With at least 70% of the South African population estimated to have been exposed to COVID-19 over the past 18 months, high estimated levels of existing antibodies might skew the data.
“This could be a confounding factor for these hospital admission and severity indicators during this Omicron wave,” Ryan Noach, chief executive of Discovery Health, said in a briefing on the study.
The vaccine also reduces hospitalization across all ages. It also protect against hospitalization for those with chronic underlying heart issues such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and other cardiovascular diseases.
Also according to a study conducted, there is said to be a higher risk of reinfection during the fourth wave compared to previous waves as well as hospitalization among adults diagnosed with COVID-19 was still 29% lower than during the country’s first wave last year.
In the case of children, they appeared to have a higher risk of being hospitalized with complications during the fourth wave compared to the first even though there’s a very low absolute incidence.
“This is early data and requires careful follow-up,” said Shirley Collie, chief health analytics actuary at Discovery Health.
However, this trend aligns with a warning in recent days from South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) that during the country’s third wave from June to September they had seen an increase in pediatric admissions and now, in the fourth wave, they are seeing a similar increase in admissions for children under five, she said.
South African scientists have said they cannot confirm a link between Omicron and the high admissions of infants, which could be due to other factors.
Many unknowns still surround Omicron due to the early state of the variant.
The WHO on the other hand stated that there were early signs that vaccinated and people who were previously infected would not build enough antibodies to protect against an omicron infection which will potentially lead to high transmission rates even though its unclear if omicron is more contagious compared to the dominant Delta variant.
Pfizer and BioNTech said last week that two shots of their vaccine may still protect against severe disease because its mutations were unlikely to evade the T-cells’ response.