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Pfizer begins study to test COVID-19 vaccine tweaked to fight Omicron variant

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Pfizer begins study to test COVID-19 vaccine tweaked to fight Omicron variant
Pfizer and BioNTech said the study will include more than 1,400 volunteers and weigh the results of its normal COVID-19 vaccine compared with a formulation geared to ward off the Omicron variant. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Pharma company Pfizer announced on Tuesday that it's begun a study to test its COVID-19 vaccine against a similar shot that's been adjusted to better fight off the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The company and partner BioNTech said the study will include volunteers between 18 and 55 years old. The study will also include some volunteers who were part of Pfizer's Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine booster study.

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Pfizer has said for months that it was working on a vaccine specifically formulated to ward off the Omicron variant. If effective, it's expected to be submitted for regulatory approval sometime this spring.

"While current research and real-world data show that boosters continue to provide a high level of protection against severe disease and hospitalization with Omicron, we recognize the need to be prepared in the event this protection wanes over time and to potentially help address Omicron and new variants in the future," Kathrin Jansen, Pfizer senior vice president and head of vaccine research and development, said in a statement Tuesday.

Pfizer is one of several drugmakers weighing a more targeted vaccine for the Omicron variant, which first emerged in South Africa and quickly spread worldwide. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
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"Staying vigilant against the virus requires us to identify new approaches for people to maintain a high level of protection, and we believe developing and investigating variant-based vaccines, like this one, are essential in our efforts towards this goal."

Pfizer and BioNTech said the study will include more than 1,400 volunteers.

"Emerging data indicate vaccine-induced protection against infection and mild to moderate disease wanes more rapidly than was observed with prior strains," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said in a statement.

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"This study is part of our science-based approach to developing a variant-based vaccine that achieves a similar level of protection against Omicron as it did with earlier variants but with longer duration of protection."

Last month, a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine said that the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and competitor Moderna were less effective at protecting older, less healthy adults against coronavirus infection. The study showed that the vaccines, however, are still able to prevent severe illness and death in most older recipients.

Pfizer is one of several drugmakers weighing a more targeted vaccine for the Omicron variant, which first emerged in South Africa and quickly spread worldwide. It's not yet conclusive in the medical community, however, whether a separate vaccine is needed to control the more infectious mutation.

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