Omicron-specific COVID-19 vax heads to trials

Pfizer and BioNTech are sending a new omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine to clinical trials soon, the companies announced this week. 

The upcoming study will include 1,420 participants. The hope, said Kathrin Jansen, senior vice president of Pfizer, is that the new vaccine will provide longer-term and higher-level protection against the omicron variant.

Data has shown that vaccines and boosters can be effective at reducing disease severity for those infected with the omicron variant. However, a recent Israeli study demonstrated that while a fourth dose of a Pfizer or Moderna mRNA vaccine boosted antibodies, it didn't elicit an antibody response strong enough to prevent infection by omicron.

“Staying vigilant against the virus requires us to identify new approaches for people to maintain a high level of protection, and we believe developing and investigating variant-based vaccines, like this one, are essential in our efforts towards this goal,” Jansen added.

The upcoming Pfizer trials will include three cohorts. In one group, unvaccinated participants will receive the omicron-based vaccine in addition to the two initial shots. In the second group, fully vaccinated participants will receive the new shot as a booster. In the third group, the omicron-specific jab will be given as a fourth dose to patients who have already received a third dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Although Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, announced in January that the omicron-specific vaccine would be ready by March, the timeline could be delayed due to the current regulatory landscape.