Omicron variant: Israel says booster vaccine will protect against new Covid strain - what early data has found

Preliminary data and remarks from an Israeli health chief have offered a positive update on the Omicron variant

Israel has said that people who have recently been double-jabbed against Covid or received the Pfizer booster vaccine should be protected from the new Omicron variant.

The variant was first revealed to the world last week and scientists have said that it is the most mutated Covid strain yet.

It is expected to take two weeks before there is information about the vaccine’s efficacy against the strain.

However, preliminary data and remarks from an Israeli health chief have offered a positive update on the situation.

What the Israeli government said about the Omicron variant

Health minister Nitzan Horowitz said today (1 December) that more data would be unveiled in the coming days but early signs were good.

He said: “In the coming days we will have more accurate information about the efficacy of the vaccine against Omicron.

“But there is already room for optimism, and there are initial indications that those who are vaccinated with a vaccine still valid or with a booster will also be protected from this variant.”

Israel has been vaccinating its population almost exclusively with the Pfizer jab.

What preliminary data on Omicron reportedly found

Following Mr Horowitz’s comments, the Israeli broadcaster Channel 12 reported on preliminary data that South Africa had shared with countries from around the world.

The unconfirmed data reportedly showed that the Pfizer jab was 90% effective at preventing symptomatic infection from Omicron.

This is slightly lower than the jab’s effectiveness against the Delta variant - which is 95%.

The report also suggested that the new variant is around 1.3 times more infectious than Delta, the Jerusalem Post reports.

People who have not been vaccinated have a 2.4 times greater chance of developing serious symptoms, the newspaper reported.

What pharmaceutical companies have said about Omicron

There have been mixed messages from pharmaceutical companies over the risks posed by the Omicron variant.

BioNTech CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin said: “We think it’s likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron.”

The University of Oxford added that there was no evidence that current vaccines would not protect people against severe symptoms from the new variants.

However, the CEO of Moderna Stephane Bancel, told the Financial Times yesterday (30 November): “There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level... we had with Delta.

“I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to... are like, ‘This is not going to be good.’”

What travel restrictions have been imposed over Omicron

Both Israel and Japan have imposed tough restrictions to try and stop the spread of the Omicron variant, with both countries closing their borders to non-residents.

European countries have imposed restrictions on travel to South Africa, with 32 cases of Omicron now reported in the UK.

While many Asian countries, which were planning on slowly reopening to tourists, have temporarily suspended those plans.

The Philippines has stopped plans to allow fully-vaccinated travellers into the country while it tries to prevent Omicron.

South Korea and Thailand are restricting flights from eight countries from this month.

What is the Omicron variant?

This variant was first found in South Africa, and has been dubbed “the worst one we’ve seen so far” by officials.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, described it as “very different” to other variants, such as the Delta variant.

He said that it has “an unusual constellation of mutations”, adding: “This variant did surprise us, it has a big jump on evolution and many more mutations that we expected.”

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