Omicron-Specific Vaccine Booster May Not Be Needed: Study

Omicron-Specific Vaccine Booster May Not Be Needed: Study
A nurse fills up a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in a file image. (Sergio Flores/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber

COVID-19 vaccine boosters that target the Omicron virus variant may not be needed, according to a new study.

Researchers with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Moderna, and other institutions tested Moderna’s regular booster and Moderna’s Omicron-specific booster and found that both lead to “comparable and significant increases in neutralizing antibody responses against all VOC including Omicron.”

VOC refers to variants of concern. Omicron is a variant of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus. Also known as SARS-CoV-2, the virus causes COVID-19.
The study (pdf) has not been peer-reviewed but was posted online already “because of its timeliness,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the NIH, said in a statement.

Researchers tested the boosters in monkeys after Moderna and Pfizer announced plans to roll out Omicron-specific boosters in the future.

Omicron evades protection from the vaccines and prior infection better than earlier strains, leading to a record number of COVID-19 cases in the United States, including many among the vaccinated and some among those who got primary series of the shots and a booster.

Moderna said in December 2021 that the regular booster for its vaccine, mRNA-1273, appeared to protect well against Omicron but has still been pushing ahead with testing on the Omicron-specific formulation, with the first participant in a phase 2 study of the rejiggered shot receiving it in January.

The new study “indicates that we are not likely to need an Omicron-specific booster vaccine, as that version performs no better than the standard one,” Dr. John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College who was not involved in the study, told The Epoch Times in an email.

“The ongoing human trials will need to confirm these animal experiments, but I think that’s likely to happen,” he added.

Researchers said the study found that the Omicron-specific booster “provided no advantage” over the original booster in terms of providing a boost to neutralizing antibodies against all variants, that people may not necessarily benefit from boosters targeting Omicron, and that the original booster seems to provide sufficient protection to prevent severe disease.

“Looking to the future, however, if Omicron, or a closely antigenically related variant, remains the dominant circulating variant for some years to come, then it is possible that a change in the initial vaccine regimen would be warranted, particularly in immunologically naïve populations such as children as they reach the age of eligibility for approved COVID-19 vaccines,” they added.

The research was backed by the NIH and the Emory University School of Medicine, among other funders.

A Moderna spokesperson told The Epoch Times via email: “We appreciate the NIH’s rapid testing of mRNA-1273 in this pre-clinical model. We believe protection against variants of concern will be important, especially as we look ahead to the fall of 2022. We will continue to follow the science and epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2 and potential new variants of concern. We are committed to remaining ahead of the virus as it evolves.”