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Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE today said initial lab studies showed a third dose of their Covid-19 vaccine neutralises the omicron variant, in signs that will accelerate booster shot drives around the world.

A booster with the current version of the vaccine increased antibodies 25-fold, providing a similar level as observed after two doses against the original virus and other variants, the companies said Wednesday.

Blood plasma from people immunized with two doses of the vaccine has neutralizing antibody levels more than 25-fold less versus omicron than against the original strain of the virus, the companies said.

“Although two doses of the vaccine may still offer protection against severe disease caused by the Omicron strain, it’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose of our vaccine," said Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer. “Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of Covid-19."

The initial data show a third dose could offer still offer enough protection from disease, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said.

“Broad vaccination and booster campaigns around the world could help us to better protect people everywhere and to get through the winter season. We continue to work on an adapted vaccine which, we believe, will help to induce a high level of protection against Omicron-induced Covid-19 disease as well as a prolonged protection compared to the current vaccine."

The data are preliminary, as the partners continue to study the new variant.

First detected in Africa in late November, the Omicron variant has been reported in 57 nations, with Covid cases rising in southern Africa including Zimbabwe, and the number of patients needing hospitalisation is likely to rise as it spreads, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.

India has reported 23 cases of omicron variant of coronavirus so far. The heavily mutated Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges that could have "severe consequences" in some places, WHO had said earlier.

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