Booster needed to protect against Omicron variant; infection may provide as much immunity, but doctors say a booster is better

FILE PHOTO: Test tubes labelled "COVID-19 Test Positive" are seen in front of displayed words "OMICRON SARS-COV-2" in this illustration taken December 11, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

If you haven’t gotten a booster shot following your “full vaccination” with the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines against Covid-19, you probably are not protected against getting sick from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, says a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study found that “Two shots of Covid-19 vaccine without an additional booster offer essentially no lasting protection against infection with Omicron, and a coronavirus infection is as effective as a recent booster shot in preventing a new Omicron-fueled illness,” reports Corinne Purtill of the Los Angeles Times.

“At the same time, any immunity to the highly contagious variant, either from infection or vaccination, appears to offer significant and lasting protection against serious illness, hospitalization and death, the researchers found. And if you haven’t had either the virus or the vaccine, doctors urged, it’s better to get the jab.”

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Southern California, “It’s definitely much, much safer to get vaccinated than to get infected. The vaccine is only presenting a small piece of the virus. The whole virus, if you get infected, is going to spread throughout the body, it’s going to cause different symptoms in different body parts and increase your risk for long Covid or a prolonged duration of illness.”

The study shows that we are going to be able to live with Covid-19, said Laith Jamal Abu-Raddad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar and a co-author of the study, which was conducted in the small Middle East nation that has just under 3 million people but expatriates from 150 other countries.
“Covid-19 is going to stay with us essentially forever. It’s not really going to disappear,” Abu-Radded said. “But the question will be: Will we be able to live with it somehow? And the initial results we are getting are actually very encouraging.”
The study found that people without booster shots “had essentially no protection against a mild to moderate case of Covid-19,” Purtill writes. “Six months after their last shot, they were just as susceptible to a positive test and disease symptoms as anyone else — but still showed strong resistance to severe illness.”Also, “A prior infection was about 46% effective at preventing a symptomatic infection. Being fully vaccinated and boosted was about 52% effective. And having natural immunity from a prior infection as well as immunity from a vaccine and booster was the most effective of all, reducing Covid-19 risk by 77%.” That is much less than the initial 94% to 95% effectiveness of vaccines, but as the virus “accumulates mutations, the vaccines become less effective at recognizing the virus and blocking infections,” Purtill explains.

“The immune evasion is so much higher” with Omicron, Abu-Raddad said. It is “essentially a new virus.”

Dr. Robert “Chip” Schooley, an infectious disease specialist at the University of California-San Diego, told Purtill that the Qatari researchers have done “a much better job of understanding the decay of the immune response over time than we have” in the U.S.

“Getting Covid right now — if you’re vaccinated up and you’re reasonably healthy — is more of a nuisance than it is a life-threatening event for most people,” Schooley said. “It’s a very different disease from two years ago, when we had a largely non-immune human population, and a virus that was going at you for the first time. Now we have a virus that many of us have either seen through vaccination, or through infection, or a combination of both. The playing field is much more level.”

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