HK study shows BioNTech much weaker against Omicron

Researchers in Hong Kong have found that the BioNTech vaccine may be much less effective against the Omicron variant of Covid-19, although they say it’s still likely to prevent death and severe diseases.

A joint study by the medicine faculties of the University of Hong Kong and the Chinese University showed that BioNTech is 32 times weaker in its ability to kill the Omicron variant than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The team collected blood samples from 10 people one month after they received the second dose of the vaccine – the time when the highest level of antibodies was expected.

They then tested it against the original form of the coronavirus, as well as the new variant which was isolated from the first Hong Kong case.

According to a press release on Sunday, Professor Malik Peiris, who led the study, said: “We can see that most individuals had high levels of virus killing (neutralisation) activity against the original SARS-CoV-2 but this ability was markedly reduced by 32 folds or more against the Omicron variant.”

The medical schools said they are conducting similar tests on the Sinovac vaccine.

They said since previous studies had found that antibody levels in Sinovac were lower than with BioNTech, it is very likely that Sinovac will lose a large part of its protection against Omicron as well.

Researchers said they will also test the effectiveness of booster shots.

Meanwhile, the team reiterated that vaccines are still likely to be effective in protecting against death and severe disease, and called on high-risk groups, such as the elderly and those with a compromised immune system or other chronic diseases to get booster shots as soon as possible.