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Pfizer says third COVID shots may protect against omicron

December 8, 2021

The pharma giant and its German partner BioNTech announced preliminary lab results showing a 25-fold increase in protection. Germany has ordered millions of booster doses as a new government takes over in Berlin.

A doctor holds a vial of the Pfizer vaccine
Scientists are trying to ascertain whether the omicron variant might be more resistant to vaccines than other COVID mutationsImage: Vichan Poti/picture alliance/Pacific Press

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its partner BioNTech announced that a third dose of their coronavirus jab offers strong protection against the omicron variant, according to initial study results published Wednesday.

Lab tests revealed a 25-fold increase in antibody levels, the firm said. However, the news came with the caveat that the initial two doses of the vaccine may not be enough to prevent infection with the highly transmissable variant.

"Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it's clear from these preliminary data that protection is maximized with a third dose of our vaccine,'' Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said in a statement.

Ask Derrick: Vaccines and omicron

Blood samples taken a month after a booster showed people harbored levels of omicron-neutralizing antibodies that were similar to amounts proven protective against earlier variants after two doses.

Pfizer's study still needs to undergo scientific review, but it marks the first concrete information from a vaccine manufacturer about booster effectiveness and the omicron variant. 

There is still much that is unknown about omicron, but it has been detected in 57 countries and is thought to be behind an uptick in cases in the United States and several European countries.

Germany orders millions of boosters as new government takes over

At the same time, Germany has seen massive new orders of BioNTech-Pfizer boosters. According to a national doctors' association, some 6.5 million doses have been ordered by providers in recent weeks.

Germany's infectious disease agency, the Robert Koch Insitute (RKI) said on Wednesday that 18.7% of the country's population had received a booster shot as the torch passes to a new government that has made the vaccination campaign the cornerstone of its pandemic-fighting policy.

Conservative Health Minister Jens Spahn stepped down as his Christian Democrat (CDU) party left office. He will be replaced by epidemiologist and Social Democrat (SPD) Karl Lauterbach.

"This ministry is more in focus than ever," Spahn said in the hand off ceremony. "The mutations of the virus shows we are still in the middle of the pandemic."

Spahn congratulated Lauterbach, who thanked him before promising to do "everything possible to finish off the omicron variant."

Germany’s post-Merkel era: What’s at stake?

es/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)