Pfizer seeks 4th booster as "stealth" Omicron spreads quickly in China, Europe

Pandemic not over yet
Omicron Sub Lineage BA.2
Posted at 3:42 PM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 19:09:08-04

TAMPA, Fla — Pfizer has asked for emergency authorization from the FDA for a second booster for people 65 and older. The request comes as other parts of the world deal with a major spike in omicron cases.

“There’s a lot of people who have vaccine hesitancy in China and in Hong Kong. They believe in traditional medicine and so I think something like less than half of the over 70 population has been vaccinated,” said Dr. Thomas Unnasch, a distinguished professor at USF’s College of Public Health.

China has now ordered 51 million people into lockdown as the country faces its worst outbreak since the start of the pandemic in early 2020. Cases of Omicron sub-variant BA.2, also referred to as stealth omicron, are likely behind the surge.

Dr. Unnasch said the vaccine developed in China is way less effective than the mRNA vaccines we have in America. He also said the country’s quarantine strategy doesn’t seem to work against omicron.

They tried to approach this with a zero COVID strategy and really lockdown and quarantine a lot of people,” he said. “That worked really just fine through the original Wuhan variant and the Alpha variant, and also pretty much against the Delta variant. But when this Omicron came through, it was just so infectious.”

Europe has also seen the spread of stealth omicron. Early studies show the sub-variant is way more contagious than other omicron mutations and is more severe in the unvaccinated.

“The more times you get vaccinated and boosted, up until a certain point of course, the more of these cells you produce and the more variation you have,” said Dr. Unnasch. “The broader your immunity becomes.”

While Pfizer has sought approval for that second booster; Dr. Unnasch is inclined to wait until a booster comes out that includes defense against omicron.

“I think for people who are immuno-compromised or who are an at-risk group and didn’t develop a great immune response for the first three; it’s probably a really good idea to go out and get the fourth right now,” he said. “But if you’re pretty much a normal walking around immuno-competent person; I think it’s kind of a wash right now.”