13 December 2021
- Researchers used blood samples collected from Com-COV2 study participants who had received two doses of standard COVID-19 vaccination schedules to perform neutralisation assays using Omicron virus isolate
- Substantial fall in neutralising titres suggest that while there is no evidence of increased potential to cause severe disease, or death, increased infections in previously infected, or vaccinated individuals may be likely
- •Increasing vaccine uptake among unvaccinated, and encouraging third doses, remain priority to reduce transmission levels and potential for severe disease
Researchers from the University of Oxford have analysed the impact of the Omicron COVID-19 variant of concern on one of the immune responses generated by vaccination.
Using blood samples from individuals who had previously received two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines as part of the Com-COV study, and a live virus isolate, they demonstrate substantial decrease in neutralising titres – a measure of the level of neutralising antibodies generated in responses to vaccination against, or infection from, COVID-19.
The results, published on the pre-print server MedRxiv, indicate that the Omicron variant has the potential to drive a further wave of infections, including among those already vaccinated, although the researchers highlight that there is currently no evidence of increased potential to cause severe disease, hospitalisations or deaths in vaccinated populations.
These results align with recently published data from UK Health Security Agency, showing reduced effectiveness of two doses of these vaccines against symptomatic disease due to the Omicron variant compared to Delta. Importantly, this effectiveness was improved by a third dose of vaccine.
Professor Gavin Screaton, Head of the University’s Medical Sciences Division, and lead author of the paper, said:
‘These data will help those developing vaccines, and vaccination strategies, to determine the routes to best protect their populations, and press home the message that those who are offered booster vaccination should take it.
‘Whilst there is no evidence for increased risk of severe disease, or death, from the virus amongst vaccinated populations, we must remain cautious, as greater case numbers will still place a considerable burden on healthcare systems.’
Professor Matthew Snape, Professor in Paediatrics and Vaccinology at the University of Oxford and co-author, said:
‘It was always a goal of the Com-COV studies to be able to have samples ready, if needed, to test various vaccination schedules against new variants of the coronavirus as they emerged, and we were delighted to assist our colleagues with this important study to enhance our knowledge of how the virus is changing.
‘These data are important but are only one part of the picture. They only look at neutralising antibodies after the second dose, but do not tell us about cellular immunity, and this will also be tested using stored samples once the assays are available.
‘Importantly, we have not yet assessed the impact of a “third dose” booster, which we know significantly increases antibody concentrations, and it is likely that this will lead to improved potency against the Omicron variant.’
Professor Teresa Lambe, Professor in Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, and an author on the paper, said:
‘Vaccination induces many arms of our immune system, including neutralising antibodies and T-cells. Real-world effectiveness data has shown us that vaccines continue to protect against severe disease with previous variants of concern. The best way to protect us going forward in this pandemic is by getting vaccines in arms.’
Notes to Editors:
The paper can be accessed at: https://medrxiv.org/cgi/content/short/2021.12.10.21267534v1
For an interview with the lead researchers from the University of Oxford, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01865 280528.
About the Com-COV study
The University of Oxford is leading the Com-COV1 and Com-COV2 studies, run by the National Immunisation Schedule Evaluation Consortium (NISEC) and backed by £9.2 million of government funding from the Vaccines Taskforce. The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) is providing an additional £5 million in funding for Com-COV2.
Data from the original Com-COV study in adults has shown that mixed schedules involving Pfizer-BioNTech and Oxford-AstraZeneca induced high concentrations of antibodies against the SARS-CoV2 spike IgG protein when doses were administered four weeks apart. This study has informed immunisation practices globally and already resulted in two publications in the Lancet.
About the Medical Sciences Division
The Medical Sciences Division is an internationally recognised centre of excellence for biomedical and clinical research and teaching and is the largest of the four academic divisions within the University. The other three divisions are Humanities, Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences and Social Sciences.
Over 5000 academics, researchers, NHS clinicians and GPs, and administrative staff, 1500 graduate and 1600 undergraduate students, together contribute to its extensive and exemplary research, teaching and clinical portfolios.
It aims to be the best university biomedical institution in Europe and amongst the best five biomedical institutions in the world, and has been ranked number one for the last ten years in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for clinical, pre-clinical and health sciences - the only non-North American institution to be top-ranked by THE in any subject discipline.
About the University of Oxford
Oxford University has been placed number 1 in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings for the sixth year running, and at the heart of this success is our ground-breaking research and innovation.
Oxford is world-famous for research excellence and home to some of the most talented people from across the globe. Our work helps the lives of millions, solving real-world problems through a huge network of partnerships and collaborations. The breadth and interdisciplinary nature of our research sparks imaginative and inventive insights and solutions.
Through its research commercialisation arm, Oxford University Innovation, Oxford is the highest university patent filer in the UK and is ranked first in the UK for university spinouts, having created more than 200 new companies since 1988. Over a third of these companies have been created in the past three years.