NEWS

Studies Show mRNA Booster Is Effective Against Omicron

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Verywell Health / Photo Illustration by Ellen Lindner / Unsplash

Key Takeaways

  • CDC data shows that a third dose of any mRNA vaccine is effective against hospitalization and deaths from the Omicron variant.
  • A lab study shows that booster protection persists for at least four months.
  • Although a fourth shot may not be necessary yet, getting a third dose can restore antibody levels against COVID-19.

Pfizer’s COVID-19 booster appears to protect against the Omicron variant for at least four months, according to a new preprint study. According to the researchers, the study provides the “first glimpse of the neutralization durability against Omicron.”

The lab study evaluated and compared the strength of antibody response in people who were fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and in people who received a Pfizer booster after one month and four months, respectively.

Researchers found that for people who received two Pfizer doses, the antibody titer levels against Omicron were low, but a booster shot restored the antibody response. Four months after a booster, the titer levels had declined but remained more protective against the variant than only having two doses.

Experts are unsure how long the booster protection will persist after the four month mark, but continue to express confidence in the vaccine’s ability to prevent severe illness and death.

“The current vaccine is good for prevention of severe disease, hospitalization, and death,” Pei-Yong Shi, PhD, distinguished chair in innovations in molecular biology at the University of Texas Medical Branch and senior author of the study, wrote in an email to Verywell. “We know two and three doses would not efficiently prevent infection as we wish for.”

Real-World Data on Booster Effectiveness Against Omicron

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that mRNA boosters are highly effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths during the Omicron surge. Despite alarming increases in positive cases, hospitalization and death rates have remained lower in people who were vaccinated and boosted.

In a recent study, the agency found that when the Delta variant was the dominant strain in circulation, a third dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was 94% effective both at preventing hospitalizations and COVID-19–related emergency care visits. Two doses, with no booster, were 86% effective at preventing emergency visits within 14–179 days after vaccination and 76% effective 180 days or more days after vaccination.

The agency had less data on people in the Omicron-dominant period but drew similar conclusions on booster effectiveness. According to the CDC findings, a third dose of an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was 90% effective at preventing hospitalization and 82% effective at preventing emergency care visits.

Two doses were 81% effective at preventing hospitalization within 14–179 days after vaccination and 57% effective 180 or more days after vaccination. They were 52% effective at preventing emergency visits within 14–179 days after vaccination and only 38% effective 180 or more days after vaccination.

The study did not evaluate children or patients who had been vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The findings show a decrease in vaccine efficacy with time and highlights the importance of vaccines and booster shots, the researchers concluded.

Another recent study from the CDC looked at booster effectiveness against both infection and death in comparison to two doses.

During October and November 2021, the agency found that unvaccinated people had nearly 14 times the risk of COVID-19 infection and more than 50 times the risk of death when compared with fully vaccinated people who had a booster. People who had received two doses of vaccine had about 3.5 times the risk of infection than people who were boosted and about six times the risk of COVID-19 death.

Will There Be a Second Booster?

More research is needed to determine how long the booster’s protection will persist after four months, and these findings will be crucial for helping to guide decisions about whether or not to authorize a fourth vaccine dose, Shi wrote.

Preliminary data from Israel suggests that a fourth vaccine dose only slightly increases antibodies and may not significantly impact protection levels, particularly against Omicron.

Further research on booster durability will also be necessary for assessing the need—or lack thereof—for an Omicron-specific vaccine, which Shi referred to as “backup."

“We have to pursue both vaccine approaches,” he said.

What This Means For You

If you were vaccinated at least five months ago with either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, or at least two months ago with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, getting an mRNA booster shot is one of the best ways to protect yourself from severe illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19 variants.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Xia H, Zou J, Kurhade C, et al. Neutralization of Omicron SARS-CoV-2 by 2 or 3 doses of BNT162b2 vaccinebioRxiv. Preprint posted online January 22, 2022. doi:10.1101/2022.01.21.476344

  2. Thompson MG, Natarajan K, Irving SA, et al. Effectiveness of a third dose of mRNA vaccines against COVID-19–associated emergency department and urgent care encounters and hospitalizations among adults during periods of Delta and Omicron variant predominance — VISION Network, 10 States, August 2021–January 2022. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(4);139–145. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7104e3

  3. Johnson AG, Amin AB, Ali AR, et al. COVID-19 incidence and death rates among unvaccinated and fully vaccinated adults with and without booster doses during periods of Delta and Omicron variant emergence — 25 U.S. jurisdictions, April 4–December 25, 2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2022;71(4);132–138. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm7104e2

By Claire Wolters
Claire Wolters is a staff reporter covering health news for Verywell. She is most passionate about stories that cover real issues and spark change.