A new Columbia University study says the omicron variant of COVID-19 is “markedly resistant” to existing vaccines and antibody treatments, and that even booster shots may provide only modest protection against infection.
The draft study was led by renowned researcher Dr. David Ho, and early evidence suggests the lightning quick-spreading strain is likely to cause a massive wave of so-called breakthrough infections even among fully vaccinated people.
“We found (omicron) to be markedly resistant to neutralization in individuals vaccinated with one of the four widely used COVID-19 vaccines, “ said the study. “Even serum from persons vaccinated and boosted with mRNA-based vaccines exhibited substantially diminished neutralizing activity against (omicron),” it added.
The study is still in the so-called “pre-print” stage, meaning it has not been reviewed by other experts or edited by any scientific journal. It was released Wednesday by the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, which is now focused on fighting COVID-19.
The study says existing antibody therapies, like the monoclonal antibody cocktails that are credited with saving many lives during current and previous COVID-19 waves, appear to be mostly ineffective against omicron.
It also noted that natural antibodies from previous infections are not effective in warding off omicron, meaning people who have had COVID-19 in the past are virtually unprotected from reinfection in the coming omicron wave.
Translation: Americans should be very concerned about omicron as it starts to spread across the country.
The study still recommends getting vaccinated and obtaining booster shots to obtain even modest protection they offer against infection and especially against serious or life-threatening diseases.
The unusually blunt study notes that omicron “struck fear” in even veteran researchers when it was first identified because of its high number of mutations, especially in the virus’s so-called spike proteins. Those are part of the virus that antibodies attack, so changes can make them less effective at preventing infection.
“These extensive spike mutations raise the specter that current vaccines and therapeutic antibodies would be greatly compromised,” the study said. “This concern is amplified by the findings we now report.”
There is no doubt that omicron spreads faster than previous variants. Caseloads are doubling every three days or so, mirroring jumps in Britain where it is already spreading fast.
The study only involved a handful of patients and it made no effort to discover whether omicron might cause less or more severe illness.
Early clinical reports from South Africa, where omicron was first identified and is spreading widely, offer hope that the variant hasn’t caused as many severe cases or deaths so far.
But the study warns that new vaccines and treatments will need to be developed quickly.
“The omicron variant has now put an exclamation mark on this point. It is not too far-fetched to think that this (COVID-19) is now only a mutation or two away from being pan-resistant to (all) current antibodies,” the study said.
Story by Dave Goldiner, New York Daily News