RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Both Moderna and Pfizer have announced they were developing COVID-19 vaccines specific to the omicron variant. CEOs for the companies said they will be finished around March. New formulas will need another review by the FDA.
The vaccines are still proving to be effective against severe illness, so do we really need them? Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease expert at the UNC School of Medicine, told CBS 17 that it’s still unclear whether we need an omicron-specific vaccine.
“It may be that future vaccine boosters will be a mixture so that we make responses to different variants, rather than be variant specific,” he said.
The pandemic has proven to be unpredictable at every turn. Delta was believed to be a more dangerous variant of the coronavirus, but then came the more transmissible omicron variant. Developing new vaccines for each variant could turn into a whack-a-mole game. It’s why Wohl said the best approach is updating vaccines in areas where we know the virus doesn’t mutate.
“Another strategy is to use a mixture of vaccines. This is common in flu vaccination where the shot triggers antibodies against different strains of the virus,” Wohl said.
More people who are fully vaccinated and even boosted people are becoming infected with COVID-19. It doesn’t mean the vaccines don’t work. Wohl said how long they will continue to work remains an open question.
“Studies show that the levels of antibodies that the vaccines trigger fall over time but that is not unexpected. When the threat is gone, the body relaxes a bit and stops pumping out antibodies. The cells that were trained to make the antibodies that fight the virus persist though and many believe this cellular protection will be more enduring,” Wohl explained.
He said it would be helpful for studies about waning immunity to look at not only just infection rates but also at how many people are becoming seriously ill.
“I suspect it will be lab-based data and observations from other countries that have better systems for tracking the health of their populations that will provide guidance about the timing of boosters. You don’t want to give boosters unnecessarily but certainly don’t want to wait for serious illness to surge,” he said.