When the omicron variant of COVID-19 first surfaced, a South Africa virologist was concerned it had evolved a new way of infecting cells, making vaccine antibodies entirely worthless. "Then all our efforts would be trash," Dr. Alex Sigal tells the New York Times. But, fortunately, that didn't turn out to be the case: A new study out of South Africa, led by Sigal, finds that the Pfizer vaccine does appear to offer some protection against the new variant. Researchers compared the antibodies of vaccinated people who had never had COVID to those of people who were infected with COVID, then later vaccinated.
Across the board, all of the antibodies fared significantly worse against omicron than against an earlier version of the coronavirus. Even so, there did appear to be some protection for those who'd been vaccinated but never infected, and some researchers suspect those who've received booster shots will fare even better against omicron. That's because the antibodies of those who had been infected before they were vaccinated were still able to neutralize omicron, Reuters reports. There was good anecdotal news on the omicron front, too, as Europe's largest omicron outbreak to date—120 vaccinated people who attended a Christmas party in Norway tested positive for COVID, at least half of them with omicron—included only mild cases.
"It might be that it has now replicated and mutated so many times that this is the optimal position from the virus' point of view, to spread widely and not kill the hosts," an infectious disease doctor in Oslo says, per the Express. Similarly, on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said omicron appears to be more transmissible than other variants, but so far appears to cause less severe disease, the Washington Post reports. CNN speaks to one of the first people in the US diagnosed with omicron, and he says his symptoms were so mild he thought he just had a cold. He'd been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson, then gotten a Moderna booster. (Read more omicron variant stories.)