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16 December 2021

Alexandra B Hogan, Sean L Wu, Patrick Doohan, Oliver J Watson, Peter Winskill, Giovanni Charles, Gregory Barnsley, Eleanor M Riley, David Khoury, Neil M Ferguson, Azra C Ghani1

Prof Azra Ghani

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WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling, MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, Jameel Institute, Imperial College London, in collaboration with the University of Washington, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University of Edinburgh and University of New South Wales. 


Vaccines have played a central role in mitigating severe disease and death from COVID-19 in the past 12 months. However, efficacy wanes over time and this loss of protection will be compounded by the emergence of the Omicron variant. By fitting an immunological model to population-level vaccine effectiveness data, we estimate that neutralizing antibody titres for Omicron are reduced by 4.5-fold (95% CrI 3.1–7.1) compared to the Delta variant. This is predicted to result in a drop in vaccine efficacy against severe disease (hospitalisation) from 96.5% (95% CrI 96.1%–96.8%) against Delta to 80.1% (95% CrI 76.3%–83.2%) against Omicron for the Pfizer-BioNTech booster by 60 days post boost if NAT decay at the same rate following boosting as following the primary course, and from 97.6% (95% CrI 97.4%-97.9%)  against Delta to 85.9% (95% CrI 83.1%-88.3%) against Omicron if NAT decay at half the rate observed after the primary course. Integrating this immunological model within a model of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, we show that booster doses will be critical to mitigate the impact of future Omicron waves in countries with high levels of circulating virus. They will also be needed in “zero-COVID” countries where there is little prior infection-induced immunity in order to open up safely. Where dose supply is limited, targeting boosters to the highest risk groups to ensure continued high protection in the face of waning immunity is of greater benefit than giving these doses as primary vaccination to younger age-groups. In all scenarios it is likely that health systems will be stretched. It may be essential, therefore, to maintain and/or reintroduce NPIs to mitigate the worst impacts of the Omicron variant as it replaces the Delta variant. Ultimately, Omicron variant-specific vaccines are likely to be required.


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