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Omicron Severely Escapes AstraZeneca and Pfizer Vaccines: Oxford Study

Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.
Published: December 14, 2021
British que for injection for vaccine passports. A study by Oxford and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences researchers found Omicron severely escapes AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccine antibodies.
The public queue onto Westminster Bridge, near the Houses of Parliament, as they wait to accept a dose or a booster of a COVID-19 injection to qualify for vaccine passports on December 13, 2021. A study from Oxford and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences researchers found Omicron is almost completely escaping AstraZeneca antibodies and heavily reducing Pfizer-BioNTech antibodies. (Image: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)

A new study published by Oxford researchers, many of whom are affiliated with the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (CAMS), have found the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), is severely evading antibodies generated by the AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines. 

The study is a short, seven page preprint submitted to medRxiv on Dec. 11. In the experiment, Oxford/CAMS researchers examined blood serum taken from 43 test subjects in the Com-COV2 study published in The Lancet on Dec. 6, which examined adults aged over 50 for the results of mixing vaccine flavors between first and second doses (i.e. first dose Pfizer, second dose Moderna). 

The 43 subjects were “seronegative individuals,” [no natural exposure] and all were takers of consecutive doses of either the AstraZeneca adenovirus vector double stranded DNA or Pfizer-BioNTech messenger RNA gene therapy injections.

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22 individuals took the AstraZeneca injection and 21 accepted the Pfizer-BioNTech injection.

Serum samples taken by the Com-COV2 study, used by the Oxford preprint, were obtained only four weeks after the administration of the second dose, and the second dose was administered an average of 9 weeks after the first dose.

The team performed their neutralization assay “using an isolate of Omicron obtained from an infected case in the UK,” and compared the resulting neutralization titres against the Victoria, Beta, and Delta strains.

A titre is defined by the Government of Alberta’s Health Information and Tools website as “a measure of how much the sample can be diluted before the antibodies or antigens can no longer be detected.”

“A titre of 1 to 8 (1:8) means that antibodies or antigens can still be found when 1 part of the blood sample is diluted by 8 parts of a salt solution (saline), but they can no longer be found at a dilution of 1 to 16 (1:16),” it explains.

The higher the titre number, the larger the concentration of antibodies or antigens.

The Victoria variant is described as “an early pandemic SARS-CoV-2 strain” by the researchers, who also note that Delta is considered responsible for 99 percent of all pre-Omicron cases globally.

In the experiment’s results, Oxford/CAMS scientists found the 22 takers of the AstraZeneca flavor of injection fared substantially worse than those who took the Pfizer-BioNTech offering, with neutralizing titres having “dropped to below the detectable threshold in all but one participant.”

Meanwhile, although “median neutralizing titres” in the 21 Pfizer-BioNTech recipients fared better, results were still markedly poor. Titres dropped 29.8 fold from 1609 against the Victoria variant to 54 against Omicron.

One Pfizer recipient’s titres dropped below the detection threshold.

“These data suggest Omicron is more antigenically distant from the original SARS-CoV2 vaccine strain than the previously most distant strains Beta and Delta,” said the study. 

Researchers noted their findings were concurrent with a preprint put out by a group of South African scientists in a study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the NIH on Dec. 7 that found takers of the Pfizer-BioNTech injection without previous natural immunity had a 41-fold decrease in vaccine efficacy.

The South African study, which tested serum from 12 fully vaccinated individuals, half with a previous COVID diagnosis in the prior 12 to 18 months, and half without any natural immunity, was notable because it found five of six of the group with previous exposure retained “relatively high neutralization titers with Omicron.”

Mainstream media and social media influencers in the science community nonetheless used the findings of the South African study to call for mandatory booster injections. 

The Oxford/CAMS researchers similarly used their study’s results to promote acceptance of booster shots and to call for injecting those who are still unvaccinated.

The team set the table for their prescription by stating, “The immune escape reported here may lead Omicron to displace Delta to become the dominant strain worldwide. If this were to occur it may be necessary to produce vaccines tailored to Omicron, however, because of the antigenic distance of Omicron, these might be unlikely to give protection against previous strains.”

Yet the paper appeared to forget that their study’s serum samples were taken from individuals who had completed double injection only four weeks earlier when the author stated, “Finally, from the data presented here, it is clear that possessing a high starting titre against early pandemic strains gives a higher level of neutralisation of Omicron, which could be obtained by deploying third booster doses of vaccine.”

The team concluded, “Reaching the unvaccinated with current vaccines remains a priority in order to reduce transmission levels and reduce the potential for severe disease in the immunologically naïve.”