A new study from Columbia University says the omicron variant of COVID-19 is proving to be "markedly resistant" to vaccines.
"A striking feature of this variant is the large number of spike mutations 31 that pose a threat to the efficacy of current COVID-19 vaccines and antibody therapies," says an abstract from more than 20 scientists with Columbia University and the University of Hong Kong.
The omicron variant, first detected in South Africa last month, is quickly spreading across the planet and is being associated with case hot spots in crowded places such as New York City. Early research suggested that the omicron variant is more transmissible but less severe than delta, which became the dominant strain worldwide this summer.
But this study, published Wednesday, portends hurdles ahead noting that omicron's "extensive spike mutations raise the specter that current vaccines and therapeutic antibodies would be greatly compromised."
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Even for booster shots, which health officials highly recommend for everyone 16 years and older in the United States, the study warns that they "may not adequately protect against Omicron infection," though it still advises people to get one.
The study, which is a "pre-print" and has not been peer-reviewed, says its "findings are in line with emerging clinical data on the Omicron variant demonstrating higher rates of reinfection and vaccine breakthroughs."
The study also warned about what may come next.
“It is not too far-fetched to think that this [COVID-19] is now only a mutation or two away from being pan-resistant to current antibodies,” the study said. “We must devise strategies that anticipate the evolutional direction of the virus and develop agents that target better conserved viral elements.”
More than 273 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported around the world since the start of the pandemic, and more than 5.3 million deaths have been associated with it, according to data posted by Johns Hopkins University. More than 200 million people have been fully vaccinated in the United States, and roughly 58 million have received a booster shot, according to the CDC.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, this week advocated the importance of people not only getting vaccinated but boosted as well as a means to offer more protection against omicron.
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"Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron. At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster," Fauci said during a White House briefing on Wednesday.
Another study, this one from researchers with Imperial College London, says the omicron variant of COVID-19 shows no signs of being less severe than the delta variant.