On Jan. 25, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that they're pursuing clinical trials to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of a new vaccine targeting the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. The vaccine candidate is being offered to healthy adult volunteers aged 18–55.
The upcoming study for the omicron-specific vaccine will test the vaccine on a total of 1,420 individuals across three categories. The trial participant categories include those who have had three doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, those who have had two doses, and those who haven't been vaccinated.
Why did Pfizer and BioNTech create an omicron vaccine?
Although current COVID-19 vaccines are still effective, Pfizer has said that two doses of its original vaccine might not be sufficient protection against the omicron variant, Reuters stated. The company has also said that protection against omicron seems lower than with previous strains.
The CDC said last week that three doses of mRNA vaccines provided 90 percent protection against hospitalization.
Kathrin U. Jansen, Ph.D., Pfizer’s Senior Vice President and head of Vaccine Research and Development, said, “Staying vigilant against the virus requires us to identify new approaches for people to maintain a high level of protection, and we believe developing and investigating variant-based vaccines, like this one, are essential in our efforts towards this goal.”
As John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, said to NBC News, the modified shots could serve as “an insurance policy” in the event that the omicron variant mutates to become as deadly as the delta variant.
How can people sign up for Pfizer’s omicron trial?
Pfizer hasn’t released official locations or requirements for vaccine participants, but interested individuals can check the Pfizer website for information on current trials. The company says that up to 1,420 volunteers are needed.
- 615 people who have received two Pfizer vaccine doses within 90-180 days of enrollment
- 600 people who have received three Pfizer vaccine doses within 90-180 days of enrollment (two initial shots plus a booster)
- 205 people who are unvaccinated; they will receive three doses of the omicron-specific vaccine
It’s important to note that if you have already been vaccinated against COVID-19, you must have had only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines to qualify for this new trial.
When will omicron vaccines be available?
However, BioNTech has somewhat contradicted the Pfizer CEO by saying that shifting regulations by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) could make a March rollout unrealistic. “Inclusion of clinical trial data in the regulatory filings may have an impact on the delivery of initial batches,” a BioNTech spokesperson said, according to Reuters.
What other omicron vaccines are available?
Moderna is also conducting trials for an omicron-specific vaccine candidate. However, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said that data should be available in March, which means that the shots might not reach the public until months after that.
“We need to be careful to try to stay ahead of a virus and not behind the virus,” he said.