Vaccine developers have “a pretty good degree in confidence” that fully vaccinated people who’ve gotten a COVID-19 booster are protected against the omicron variant, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb said Sunday.
In an interview on CBS News’ “Face The Nation,” Gottlieb said three questions have to be answered about the new variant. Is it more virulent? Does it escape immunity? Does it spread faster?
“Is this making people more ill? There's no indication that it is,” he said of the first question.
“It has a lot of mutations that we know correlate with escape from immunity that's conferred by prior infection or by the vaccines,” he said of the second unknown — and added “there’s an assumption right now” the omicron variant also has increased “transmissibility.”
“But even if its ability to escape the immunity that we've acquired from prior infection of vaccines does make it more transmissible in certain circumstances, the question here is going to be whether or not a fully boosted individual is someone who's had three doses of vaccine has good protection against this variant,” Gottlieb noted.
“And right now, if you talk to people in vaccine circles, people who are working on a vaccine, they have a pretty good degree of confidence that a boosted vaccine — so three full doses of vaccine — is going to be fairly protective against this new variant,” he said.
Gottlieb added that researchers also want to know if someone who has immunity from prior infection from the delta variant is protected. Gottlieb is on the board of directors of Pfizer, maker of one of the three coronavirus vaccines approved for use in the United States.
“If someone who's been infected with delta is well protected from this and someone who is fully boosted is also well protected from this, that could be a pretty good backstop from this becoming really epidemic in the United States,” he said.
Gottlieb also predicted studies that will be available in the next week or two will shed more light on the question of immunity provided by booster shots.
“We're going to have studies out maybe by the end of this week, but certainly into next week, where what scientists are going to do is take the plasma from people who either had two doses of vaccine or had three doses of vaccine or were never vaccinated and just recovered from a delta infection,” he said.
“I would expect that those studies are going to show that the neutralization against this virus declined substantially. But that doesn't mean that the vaccines won't be effective," he said.
“Remember, with the old South African variant, which also escaped the vaccines, we saw neutralization decline by two thirds in those studies,” he continued.
“But when the vaccines actually were put into the population, the mRNA vaccines were almost equally effective against B.1.351 as they were against the Wuhan variant. So, you could see a decline in neutralization of vaccines will still be effective.”
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