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Boosters provide the best protection against Omicron variant, study finds


Three US studies released Friday offered more evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are standing up to the Omicron variant, at least among people who received booster shots.
They are the first large US studies to look at vaccine protection against Omicron, health officials said.
The papers echo previous research — including studies in Germany, South Africa and the UK — indicating available vaccines are less effective against Omicron than earlier versions of the coronavirus, but also that boosters significantly improve protection.
A dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's hospital, Nov. 5, 2021, in Chicago.
Three US studies released Friday offered more evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are standing up to the Omicron variant, at least among people who received booster shots. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The first study looked at hospitalisations and emergency room and urgent care centre visits in 10 states, from August to this month.

It found vaccine effectiveness was best after three doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines in preventing COVID-19-associated emergency department and urgent care visits.

Protection dropped from 94 per cent during the Delta wave to 82 per cent during the Omicron wave. Protection from just two doses was lower, especially if six months had passed since the second dose.

The second study focused on COVID-19 case and death rates in 25 states from the beginning of April through Christmas. People who were boosted had the highest protection against coronavirus infection, both during the time delta was dominant and also when omicron was taking over.

“It really shows the important of getting a booster dose,” said the CDC’s Emma Accorsi, one of the study’s authors.

Highlight the importance of getting a booster shot

This is the first real-life data to examine the effect of boosters against Omicron, which now accounts for more than 99 per cent of coronavirus cases in the United States. The studies, released Friday, raise the question of whether people with just two vaccine doses should still be considered fully vaccinated.

“I think we have to redefine fully vaccinated as three doses,” said Dr. William Schaffner, a longtime CDC vaccine adviser who was not involved with the studies.

Safeway pharmacist Ashley McGee fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccination at a vaccination booster shot clinic on October 01, 2021 in San Rafael, California.
Safeway pharmacist Ashley McGee fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 booster vaccination at a vaccination booster shot clinic on October 01, 2021 in San Rafael, California. ( Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

The studies have an enormous scope, involving millions of cases, hundreds of thousands of visits to emergency departments and urgent care centres, and tens of thousands of hospitalisations among adults.

Getting boosted was 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisations during a period in December and January when Omicron was the dominant variant, according to a CDC study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalisations across 10 states.

In comparison, getting two shots was 57 per cent effective when it had been at least six months past the second shot

Getting boosted was 82 per cent effective at preventing visits to emergency rooms and urgent care centres, according to the study, which looked at more than 200,000 visits in 10 states.

In comparison, getting two shots was only 38 per cent effective at preventing those visits when it had been at least six months past the second shot.

COVID-positive people with difficulty breathing should call an ambulance.
Getting boosted was 90 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisations during a period in December and January when Omicron was the dominant variant, according to a CDC study that looked at nearly 88,000 hospitalisations across 10 states. (9News)

“I think it’s the third dose that really gives you the solid, the very best protection,” Schaffner said.

That study was published Friday in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. A second study, also published in Friday’s MMWR, concluded that people with three shots were less likely to get infected with Omicron.

Looking at data from 25 state and local health departments, the CDC researchers found that among those who were boosted, there were 149 cases per 100,000 people on average each week. For those who had only two doses, it was 255 cases per 100,000 people.

A third study, published in the medical journal JAMA, showed that having a booster helped prevent people from becoming ill with Omicron. That study of just over 13,000 US Omicron cases found that the odds of developing a symptomatic infection were 66 per cent lower for people who were boosted compared to those who had only received two shots.

All three studies found that unvaccinated people faced the highest risks of becoming sick with COVID-19.

All three studies found that unvaccinated people faced the highest risks of becoming sick with COVID-19 (Photo: LA, September 2021) (AP)

The CDC currently says a person is considered fully vaccinated after they’ve received their primary COVID-19 vaccines — two weeks after receiving their second dose of an mRNA vaccine, or two weeks after their first dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Booster doses are recommended for everyone age 12 and older, five months after their primary vaccination series.

Less than half of those eligible to receive booster shots have gotten one, and only about a quarter of the total US population is fully vaccinated and boosted, according to CDC data.

Nearly 20 per cent of the US population eligible to be vaccinated — those age 5 and older — has not received any dose of COVID-19 vaccine.



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