After many reports hypothesizing about the poor efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines in protecting individuals from the Omicron variant, there is finally real-world data. Unlike the prior stories, however, the news is generally very good.
While the study is yet to be peer-reviewed, it is an extensive analysis of COVID-19 infection data from the South African provinces where Omicron was first identified. The data included more than 211,000 positive coronavirus lab test results; 41% were in adults who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine. About 78,000 of the positive test results were identified as infections by the Omicron variant.
Overall, the Pfizer vaccine reduced hospitalizations from Omicron infection by 70%. While this is less than the 93% protection observed against the Delta variant in South Africa, this is still excellent protection.
The study also shows significant protection from hospital admission among the elderly, with 67% protection in people aged 60 to 69 and 60% in people aged 70 to 79.
It is important to remember this study looks at individuals who have had only the two-injection, primary Pfizer vaccine series, so it is not related to protection from a booster shot. This is the same population in which the lab tests suggest there was little to no immunity against Omicron!
Prior studies looked only at the ability of blood (antibodies) to neutralize the virus. They did not examine the other types of immunity induced by the vaccine, such as cellular immunity.
If the 70% protection from severe disease being reported for Omicron had been the result a year ago when the vaccines were initially introduced, they still would have been hailed as a breakthrough. Also, the protection against hospitalization with Omicron after boosting Pfizer vaccines will likely be much better, possibly even as good as the +90% reduction seen with earlier forms of the COVID-19 virus (SARS-CoV-2).
Based on this, there is no reason to wait for a new vaccine; the one we have works. The best thing we can do to prepare for Omicron is get vaccinated, and then get boosted.