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Booster vaccines may offer good protection against Omicron, Oxford experts find

PIC: Nick Potts / PA WIRE

Oxford University is involved with the CovBoost study, which found six different vaccines are safe and effective as a booster.

A team studying the effects of third doses said the body’s T cell immune response after a booster shot is such that it may provide protection from hospital admission and death.

Around 3,000 volunteers were recruited from 18 research sites, more than 180 of those joined the Oxford Vaccine Group at the Churchill Hospital.

The study also backs up the UK’s decision to offer Pfizer or Moderna as a third shot, with mRNA jabs leading to the most significant rise in immunity levels.

Dr Angela Minassian, the study's Principal Investigator at Oxford Vaccine Group, said: "This study has, for the first time, demonstrated the ability of a wide range of vaccines to safely and effectively boost pre-existing immune responses induced by the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.
 
"More follow-up data is required to confirm the durability of these boosted responses and whether this translates into longer-term protection from COVID-19 disease. However, the current data are hugely encouraging and also support using lower doses of vaccines, particularly of the mRNA vaccines, as boosters. This is good news for preserving vaccine supply in addition to allowing flexibility of schedules as countries develop their booster campaigns"

Samples from the study have now been passed to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) to look at how well the Omicron variant can be neutralised by vaccines.

Professor Saul Faust, trial lead and director of the NIHR Clinical Research Facility at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, said the CovBoost study had shown that six different vaccines are safe and effective as booster doses for people who have already had two doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech.

The six vaccines tested as a third dose were Oxford/AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Novavax, Janssen (made by Johnson and Johnson) and CureVac (which has ceased production).

“All of the vaccines in our study do show a statistically significant boost… RNA (Pfizer and Moderna) very high, but very effective boosts from Novavax, Janssen and AstraZeneca as well,” Prof Faust said.

He added that the vaccines worked well against existing variants, although Omicron was not tested in the study.

However, experts think that T cell immunity – which was studied alongside antibodies in the research – could also play a significant role in fending off the variant.

T cells play a key role and work alongside antibodies in the immune system to target viruses.

“Even though we don’t properly understand its relation to long-term immunity, the T cell data is showing us that it does seem to be broader against all the variant strains, which gives us hope that a variant strain of the virus might be able to be handled, certainly for hospitalisation and death if not prevention of infection, by the current vaccines,” Prof Faust said.

He said T cell response was not just focused on the spike protein but “are recognising a much broader range of antigens that might… be common to all of the variants.”

Asked specifically about Omicron, he said: “Our hope as scientists is that protection against hospitalisation and death will remain intact.”

The new CovBoost trial, published in The Lancet, involved 2,878 people aged 30 or over receiving a booster 10 to 12 weeks after their initial two-dose vaccination.

Overall, there were 13 different groups testing the boosters or acting as controls, with controls given a meningitis vaccine.

Immunity was then assessed after 28 days, with experts saying that more data will be published in the future on the immunity results three months and one year after receiving boosters.

More data will also be published early next year looking at whether a longer period between second and third doses improves the response.

All seven vaccines posed no safety concerns, according to the study, with fatigue, headache and sore arm the most commonly reported issues.

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