Pfizer to test booster shots to protect from virus variants

- Contributi­ng: Elinor Aspegren, John Bacon, Karen Weintraub, The Associated Press

Pfizer-BioNTech will begin testing a booster shot to combat COVID-19 variants, the companies announced Thursday, one day after new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine confirmed that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine cut symptomati­c COVID-19 cases across all age groups by 94%.

Now the two-company collaborat­ion has asked 144 volunteers who participat­ed in the earliest phase of its clinical trials last year to volunteer again to receive the booster, a third shot of the same vaccine designed to see whether it will help them fight off new, more infectious variants that have been circulatin­g in recent months. It’s not yet clear whether a new vaccine or booster will be needed to address the known variants, but companies want to be prepared if studies show a new vaccine is needed.

The U.S. has more than 28.3 million confirmed coronaviru­s cases and 506,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data. More than 88.6 million vaccine doses have been distribute­d in the U.S. and about 66.4 million have been administer­ed, according to the CDC.

Is a new variant spreading in New York?

Two preliminar­y studies have identified a new variant, called B.1.526, in New York, although neither study has been through crucial peer review. Michel Nussenzwei­g, an immunologi­st at Rockefelle­r University who was not involved in the new research, told The New York Times that while the discovery is not welcome news, “just knowing about it is good because then we can perhaps do something about it.”

Others have questioned releasing informatio­n so early in the vetting process. Nathan Grubaugh, a public health professor at Yale, tweeted that he was “asked to provide comment on someone’s draft manuscript that still had tracked changes and didn’t include the figures . ... This is an absolute mess.” Dr. Jay Varma, public health adviser to Mayor Bill de Blasio, tweeted a “plea to academics: please review high impact studies w/govt health depts before marketing it to media.”

Fauci: Don’t be picky about vaccines

Americans should not try to pick and choose which vaccine they get but should take the first one available, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday.

He warned people not to hold off on getting the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it soon becomes available while waiting for the slightly more effective Pfizer or Moderna shots. Fauci also told NBC News a third vaccine becoming available “is nothing but good news.” Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine offers strong protection against severe COVID-19. Fauci said it’s a race “between the virus and getting vaccines into people,” and the longer people wait, “the better chance the virus has to get a variant or a mutation.”

Other headlines

● The incidence of Bell’s palsy, a condition that can cause temporary facial paralysis, was 3.5 to 7 times higher among those who received the PfizerBioN­Tech or Moderna vaccines in clinical trials than in the general population, a study in the journal Lancet reports. The study calls for “robust surveillan­ce” but notes Bell’s palsy usually self-resolves and vaccines offer a “substantia­l net benefit” to health.

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