The Perfect Enemy | Pfizer and BioNTech updated booster shows strong results against new omicron sublineages in fresh analysis of data
December 1, 2022
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A fresh analysis of data on the immune response generated by the bivalent COVID-19 booster showed strong results against the newer omicron sublineages, Pfizer and German partner BioNTech said Friday.

The bivalent booster targets the BA.4 and BA.5 omicron variants as well as the original virus, and it also appears to be effective against the sublineages dubbed BA.4.6, BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1 and XBB.1.

The data, which have been posted on the preprint server bioRxiv, show that the booster induces a greater increase in neutralizing-antibody titers than the companies’ original COVID vaccine.

“Based on these findings, the Omicron BA.4/BA.5-adapted bivalent booster may help to provide improved protection against COVID-19 due to Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 sublineages as well as new sublineages that continue to increase in prevalence,” the companies said in a joint statement.

Specifically, one month after a booster dose of the bivalent COVID-19 vaccine, neutralizing-antibody titers against the sublineages increased 3.2-fold to 4.8-fold compared with the original COVID vaccine.

Neutralizing-antibody titers against BA.4.6, BA.2.75.2, BQ.1.1 and XBB.1 increased 4.8-fold to 11.1-fold from prebooster levels following a booster dose of the bivalent vaccine.

The companies PFE, -0.74% BNTX, -0.14% said BA.5 is still the most prevalent sublineage in the U.S., accounting for nearly 30% of cases at time of publication, while the emerging BA.1.1 sublineage accounts for nearly 25% of cases and is spreading globally.

But data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later Friday showed BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 now account for a combined 49.7% of new cases in the week through Nov. 19, while BA.5 accounted for just 24%.64.8%

In the New York region, BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 accounted for 64.8% of new cases, while BA.5 accounted for 14.0%.

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The bivalent booster has been granted emergency-use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for people ages 5 and older and has also been allowed in the European Union for that group.

The news comes as U.S. COVID cases have been rising again, although the daily average edged lower on Thursday to 39,562, according to a New York Times tracker, down 1% from two weeks ago.

Cases are rising in roughly half the states and falling in the rest, but there are wide discrepancies between individual states. In Nebraska, cases are up 540% from two weeks ago, the tracker shows, followed by Arizona, where they are up 110%; California, where they have climbed 53%; and Colorado, where they are up 50%.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is seeing a 54% decline in cases from two weeks ago, and Michigan cases are down 48%.

The daily U.S. average for hospitalizations is up 2% to 27,818, while the daily average for deaths is down 4% to 325.

Physicians are reporting high numbers of respiratory illnesses like RSV and the flu earlier than the typical winter peak. WSJ’s Brianna Abbott explains what the early surge means for the winter months. Photo illustration: Kaitlyn Wang

Coronavirus Update: MarketWatch’s daily roundup has been curating and reporting all the latest developments every weekday since the coronavirus pandemic began

Other COVID-19 news you should know about:

• China’s southern manufacturing hub of Guangzhou is planning to build quarantine facilities for nearly 250,000 people to fight surging COVID outbreaks, even as the national government tries to reduce the impact of zero-COVID controls that have confined millions of people to their homes, the Associated Press reported. Guangzhou, a city of 13 million and the biggest of a series of hotspots across China with outbreaks since early October, reported 9,680 new cases in the past 24 hours. That was about 40% of the 23,276 cases reported nationwide. 

• Racial disparities in COVID cases and deaths have widened and narrowed over the course of the pandemic, but age-adjusted data still show that Black, Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native people have been at higher risk for cases, hospitalizations and deaths, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. “While disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations have narrowed over time and have been reversed for Hispanic people, they persist for Black people,” the report found. The pattern is also evident in uptake of the new bivalent booster, with Black and Hispanic people about half as likely as white people to have had one. Black people are also less likely to have access to antivirals, antibody treatments and other therapies.

• The Indian Health Service announced Thursday that all tribal members covered by the federal agency will be offered a vaccine at every appointment when appropriate under a new vaccine strategy, the AP reported. Throughout the pandemic, American Indians and Alaska Natives have had some of the highest COVID vaccination rates across the country. But Indigenous people are especially vulnerable to vaccine-preventable illness, and IHS officials recently noted that fewer patients have been getting vaccines for COVID-19. Monkeypox is now an additional health concern.

• Novavax NVAX, -5.34% said its COVID vaccine has received expanded authorization in Canada as a booster for adults aged 18 and older who had it as their primary shot. The protein-based vaccine has already been approved as a booster in the U.S., European Union and U.K., among other countries, Novavax said.

Here’s what the numbers say:

The global tally of confirmed cases of COVID-19 topped 637.1 million on Friday, while the death toll rose above 6.61 million, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

The U.S. leads the world with 98.3 million cases and 1,076,683 fatalities.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s tracker shows that 228.2 million people living in the U.S., equal to 68.7% of the total population, are fully vaccinated, meaning they have had their primary shots.

So far, just 35.3 million Americans have had the updated COVID booster that targets the original virus and the omicron variants, equal to 11.3% of the overall population.

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