By Tim Cocks
JOHANNESBURG, Dec. 16 (Reuters) – A small study of seven cases of COVID-19 in South Africa shows that the Omicron variant can break through booster vaccine injections, one of the scientists involved said Thursday.
A group of seven German visitors to Cape Town, aged 25 to 39, were infected at one point in late November or early December with confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant. A copy of the study seen by Reuters said they all suffered only mild to moderate symptoms and none required hospitalization.
Among the group, six were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, five of which had also received a Pfizer booster while the sixth received a booster dose of Moderna vaccine.
A seventh received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine, followed by a second and then a third booster dose of Pfizer. None had reported previous infection with COVID-19.
The infections occurred between one and two months after receiving the booster.
Wolfgang Preiser, a virologist at Stellenbosch University and one of the study’s co-authors, told Reuters the study is currently under peer review. He said the study showed infection was possible and caused symptomatic illness even after an enhanced vaccination.
A much larger real-world study of 581 people in Britain showed that booster vaccines significantly restore protection against mild illnesses caused by the Omicron variant, in part reversing an otherwise steep drop in l effectiveness of the vaccine, the UK Health Safety Agency said last week.
Scientists suspect Omicron is more transmissible, given its rapid spread, but say it’s too early to draw definitive conclusions about the severity of the disease it causes.
Health professionals say vaccination remains an essential tool in the fight against the pandemic.
“It still protects against serious illness and death: we’re very sure of that,” Preiser said.
However, he added, “the picture that emerges is that this virus is very capable of undermining the immune response … (so) it is clear that we will need an updated vaccine.” (Edited by Frances Kerry)