“It is important to note that these data are press-release level, which does not allow a view of the data totality,” says Hana El Sahly, MD, professor of molecular virology and microbiology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, TX.
“For example, there may be significant differences between the groups, and the release mentions at least one difference that is of importance: the interval since the last vaccination, which often affects the response to subsequent boosting,” she says. The findings are not surprising, El Sahly says.
“In the short term, a variant-specific vaccine produces a higher level of antibody against the variant in the vaccine than the vaccines based on the ancestral strains.”
More research results are warranted.
“These data do not indicate that these differences between the two vaccines translate into a meaningful clinical benefit at a population level,” El Sahly says.
An Uncertain Winter Ahead
“As we head into the holiday season, we hope these updated data will encourage people to seek out a COVID-19 bivalent booster as soon as they are eligible in order to maintain high levels of protection against the widely circulating Omicron BA.4 and BA.5,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and chief executive officer, says in the news release.
The updated data from the Pfizer/BioNTech study are “all the more reason to get a booster, with added protection also versus BQ.1.1, which will soon become dominant in the U.S.,” Topol says.
It is unclear when the next surge will happen, as COVID-19 does not always follow a seasonal pattern — at least not yet, El Sahly says.
“Regardless, it is reasonable to recommend additional vaccine doses to immunocompromised and frail or older persons. More importantly, influenza vaccination and being up to date on pneumococcal vaccines are highly recommended as soon as feasible, given the early and intense flu season.”