Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Part-Funded Omicron Variant Study With Surprising Conclusion About Boosters

Omicron’s latest subvariant may be a master at evading the immune response our bodies produce from the vaccine or a previous COVID-19 infection, but a new study suggests that existing booster shots will always help.

According to an article published this week in Science. This extends to BA.5, now the most prevalent COVID strain in the United States and a driver of COVID-19 reinfections across the country.

The finding comes as the Biden administration plans to expand access to a second booster to all adults over concerns that the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants could further increase cases and hospitalizations. Since March, anyone 50 and older or immunocompromised and at least 12 years old is eligible for a second booster, per CDC recommendations.

Led by the Veesler Laboratory at the University of Washington School of Medicine, the research team began a few months ago by simply examining the BA.1, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1 subvariants previously dominant, then later adding BA.4. and BA.5. He evaluated the properties of these subvariants and assessed how a panel of seven vaccines already available in the United States and around the world would protect against them.

BA.5 is a relatively new sub-variant of Omicron but “probably the most important currently in study as it is on the verge of becoming globally dominant”, according to John Bowen, one of the lead authors. of the article and biochemist at the Veesler Lab.

The BA.5 strain has been touted as the most contagious to date, so much so that vaccinated people have reported catching it even after a recent bout of COVID-19. The first part of the study sheds light on why this is so; BA.5 may outperform other subvariants because its spike protein binds to the host receptor more than six times better than the original strain that first circulated in 2019.

Researchers have finally determined that BA.5 will be the most immune-evasive COVID-19 variant yet, but that doesn’t mean our previous boosters can’t restore protection.

“We were able to look side-by-side at virtually every leading vaccine platform in the world and see that despite the fear of this variant, all of these vaccine platforms are going to elicit strong immune responses,” Bowen said. Fortune.

Due to BA.5’s reputation, the results initially took the researcher by surprise.

“When I saw the data after the third hit, I had to repeat it over and over again because I was like, ‘Why can’t I see it’s as evasive as other people l ‘did?'” Bowen said. “We were very happy to see that even though it is more immune system evasive than the others we tested, the previous methods are still going to protect against it.”

The research effort was an international collaboration between physicians and infectious disease research scientists from UW Medicine, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle and institutes in California, Argentina, Italy, Pakistan and Switzerland. . It has received funding from a plethora of sources, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

The Food and Drug Administration has advised vaccine makers to update their booster shots to target the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. While people wait for these, however, Bowen said research indicates that vaccines designed for a strain from a few years ago still work.

“We totally agree that it’s very important to keep trying to find better ways to make protective vaccines,” he said. “It’s going to take time to get them. If people need vaccines, we know current booster methods will be protective. »

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