It was on August 15th that the regulators in the UK first approved what we call a variant-adapted vaccine. That’s a vaccine that has both the original strain of the virus and also has a piece of the Omicron. Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization explains that there are two types of variant-adapted vaccines now. There’s the one that has the original virus and the BA.1 sublineage of Omicron, and the other one has the original virus and the common part of BA.4/BA.5. Both BA.4 and BA.5 are sublineages of Omicron.
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“Currently, we have the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines that have been made with these new bivalent vaccines. That means they have the two antigens in them. And they’ve been approved in the UK, but also by the European Medicines Agency for Europe and the FDA. And the FDA has approved the one that has the BA.4/5 Omicron variant, whereas the UK and Europe have approved the BA.1. So, there are two different types of vaccines,” says Swaminathan.
She further explains that the lab studies show that these bivalent vaccines help you to mount a slightly higher antibody response against Omicron. But WHO is yet to figure out whether that’s going to translate into any kind of clinical efficacy as they don’t really have those studies.
Do we need an Omicron-specific vaccine?
Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute of India (SII), in August announced that SII is also working on an Omicron-specific vaccine. But does India really need it? Considering the fact that Omicron isn’t mild and affects an individual with serious-flu like symptoms, the Omicron-specific vaccine might prove to be a boost for India, especially when the country continues to record a number of daily Covid-19 cases. However, it is also worth noting that India is doing fine with the vaccines that we currently have.
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Swaminathan says, “Time will tell whether we need this type of Omicron-specific vaccine, but at the moment we believe that the original vaccines that we’re all using today are working very well, and a third dose is important for everyone, and a fourth dose for those groups of people that are very high-risk groups.”
The WHO had declared Omicron sub-variant of the coronavirus as a variant of concern because it had a faster transmission rate. At the same time it is also important to note that Omicron is less severe as compared to the Delta variant of Coronavirus.