CM – Professor Christine Loscher: Why boosters are so important in the fight against Omicron


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BEFORE 2020, most people didn’t think much about vaccines unless they had a baby or went on vacation to exotic countries. And before the summer of 2021, most people didn’t know what a booster was – now all we hear is Booster Booster Booster.

When we started rolling out the Covid-19 vaccine in early 2021, we had clinical trial data from each of the companies that guided us on when to vaccinate and how many times we would be vaccinated.

We knew that following this regime would offer significant protection from contracting the virus and even better protection from serious illness and death.

Most of the vaccines we have taken in our lives required two or more doses plus booster vaccination so this was no different. We wondered when the alpha variant caught on in early 2021 when we launched the vaccines, and we were relieved that the data showed that protection from infection, serious illness, and death was still very high.

Just when we reached a high level of vaccination in Ireland, topped the rankings worldwide and opened up, the Delta variant struck and we asked ourselves again. Fortunately, the vaccines held up, but we saw evidence that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines offered greater protection against this Delta variant than the Astrazeneca and Janseen vaccines.

The next data that came up was for not surprising to those who understood the immune system, but difficult to understand for the general public.

Immunity to the vaccines wore off after four or five months and we didn’t have as much protection as after the second dose of our vaccine. This usually happens after all vaccinations. Initial antibody levels are high and decrease over time.

For most viruses, this declining immunity may not be a major concern, especially since you are rarely exposed to the virus as the community is low. When was the last time you were exposed to measles or rubella? But given the number of cases and community transmission from Delta during the winter months, our exposure to Covid-19 had never been higher. Here breakthrough infections were on the rise and the number of cases rose.

It quickly became apparent that the solution was to boost immunity with a third vaccination, and the booster became a talking point around the world.

Israel had pushed the way out of a delta wave and proved to the world boosters worked. Other countries followed suit, and we started boosts in Ireland a few months ago, which have finally picked up again after a slow start. This was mainly driven by the arrival of another variant.

Three weeks ago, Omicron hit the market and has spread rapidly around the world with increased portability as the main feature. The difference to this variant is that it has mutated much more strongly than its predecessor. Along with its increased transmission ability, it’s also better to bypass vaccines.

Exactly what we didn’t need as we were on our way to break free from the wintry delta wave. After an anxious wait of just over a week, the data showed that Omicron actually prevented vaccination and two doses would only give us about 30% protection from infection but better protection from serious illness and death.

These were only 13% with the Janseen single shot vaccine. Fortunately, the data also showed that the booster increased this to 70-75% and we all breathed a sigh of relief.

When data from other countries showed that Omicron is more transmissible than any other variant, and the numbers out When the over-the-water skyrocketed in the UK, all hands on the wheel were the mantra for the booster program here in Ireland.

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So the big question is whether the boosters will solve the Omicron acceleration problem as it becomes more present here with every passing day.

The Health Protection Surveillance Center said it estimates that about 35% of the reported cases are now the Omicron variant. It will undoubtedly be dominant before Christmas. While the boosters offer significant protection against serious illness and death, the protection against infection with Omicron is less. This super transferable Omicron will take full advantage of this vulnerability and breakthrough infections will accelerate quickly.

We won’t have time to empower everyone before Omicron takes off, and it will benefit from it, too. We hope that this variant can lead to lighter illnesses, which can result in a lower frequency of hospital admissions and ICU stays, but the sheer number of potential cases could make this completely irrelevant and we are seeing hospital admissions and ICUs increasing even though they are milder.

A small percentage of a large number is still a large number. We also don’t have definitive information on what infection looks like across a range of age cohorts and across different vaccination statuses, so much we don’t know yet.

But we do know that Ireland is unlike any other in terms of rising case numbers Country will make a difference – we were the same as the rest of the previous fourth waves, this time it won’t be any different.

The best we can do is manage the impact. The booster program will undoubtedly provide the best protection to minimize the impact of this surge on both our employees and our healthcare system, but it is still a race against time.

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