Two new vaccines made specifically for the Omicron variant are currently in production, but experts question whether a variant-specific vaccine is necessary right now.

Two new COVID-19 vaccines specifically designed to combat the Omicron variant may be ready soon, one as early as March, according to the CEOs of both Pfizer and Moderna—but the timing of such vaccines has some wondering if they’ll be helpful, or even necessary.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla shared the news of the company’s forthcoming Omicron-specific vaccine on January 10: “This vaccine will be ready in March,” Bourla told CNBC‘s “Squawk Box.” “We [are] already manufacturing some of these quantities at risk.” A week later, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel shared similar news that their vaccine “is being finished,” and that the company should have data to share with regulators in March as well, according to Reuters.

But with Omicron’s quick rise in the US—and now that some areas are already seeing falling case rates—many are wondering if the variant will fade out before shots can go into arms, especially since either Omicron-specific vaccine has yet to be approved or authorized by the proper authorities.

Here, infectious disease and vaccine experts help explain what makes an Omicron-specific vaccine different from the vaccines already in use, and what kind of impact, if any, such a vaccine could have on the global community.

How Is the Omicron-Specific Vaccine Different From the Vaccines Already Available


How is the Omicron vaccine different from the vaccines currently available?

The simplest explanation: “It is designed to specifically target the Omicron variant,” Kit Longley, a spokesperson and senior manager of global media relations at Pfizer, tells Health.

The Omicron-specific vaccine uses the same mRNA technology other COVID-19 vaccines use—and all mRNA vaccines deliver synthetic genetic material that’s similar to the virus they protect against. Because the Omicron variant has at least 50 mutations that differentiate it from the earliest SARS-CoV-2 strain, the Omicron-specific vaccine is expected to contain synthetic genetic material that is slightly different from the original vaccines.

Otherwise, it should work the same way the current mRNA vaccines do, Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center and professor of pediatrics in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Health. The synthetic genetic material that looks like the SARS-CoV-2 virus will trigger an immune response that forces the body to create protective antibodies. Those antibodies will then help prevent the real virus from entering cells and replicating, or causing illness, he says.

Exactly how the Omicron-specific vaccine will be used is yet to be known: It could be used as a primary vaccine or a booster, but those specifics have to be determined by regulatory bodies, once the vaccines are authorized. Another big unknown is whether the Omicron vaccine protect against mild or asymptomatic infection, or whether it will stop infected people from spreading COVID-19 in the event of breakthrough infections.

Will the Omicron vaccines still be useful when they’re ready?

More than 99% of COVID-19 cases in the US are due to Omicron right now, according to CDC data. But, at least in some areas, the variant seems to be on the decline: The New York Times reported on Wednesday that new cases in the some states, like New Jersey and New York, have dropped by 30%; while other states, like Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Georgia have seen cases drop by 10%. And although the variant hasn’t peaked nationwide yet, it could happen in the coming weeks.

“We don’t know what will be happening by the time March comes around and if we’ll still need the Omicron vaccine,” Abinash Virk, MD, an infectious disease expert at the Mayo Clinic, tells Health. “But if we switch from the current Pfizer vaccine to the Omicron one in March, it won’t be a loss since there are still so many people who haven’t had primary vaccines or boosters.”

But for now, Dr. Offit insists the current vaccine options—especially when supplemented by booster doses—are more than sufficient. Though Omicron has brought on more breakthrough cases that other variants due to its increased ability for immune evasion, existing vaccines still effectively protect against us severe illness, hospitalizations, and deaths, according to the CDC. That means more vaccine compliance overall would still lead to less illness—even without an Omicron vaccine. “We can vaccinate our way out of this pandemic—but to date, we have chosen not to,” Dr. Offit says. “The pandemic has always been a pandemic of the unvaccinated. But now it’s a pandemic of the willfully unvaccinated.”

Will we need other variant-specific vaccines in the future?

No one has an answer to that yet. Experts largely agree that so long as individuals refuse vaccination, COVID-19 is likely to keep mutating—meaning the Omicron variant may not be the last variant we see. According to Longley, though the Omicron-specific vaccine offers protection against previous variants like Delta, Pfizer does not know whether it will provide protection for the next variant that might pop up.

That said, there’s no consensus that any variant-specific vaccine is necessary in this moment. “We’ll need a variant-specific vaccine when what we have fails to protect us against serious illness,” says Dr. Offit, who’s not convinced the time is now. “Just because vaccination doesn’t protect against mild or asymptomatic infection doesn’t mean you need a variant-specific vaccine. The original vaccines were designed for the SARS-CoV-2 virus as it left China. It’s been replaced by Alpha, Delta, Omicron, and Beta in some areas. But in every case, vaccine protection from serious illness has held up.”

That’s not to say it’s time for vaccine manufacturers to put their feet up. On January 11, the World Health Organization called for current COVID-19 vaccines to be reworked to ensure they are effective against Omicron and future variants. “A vaccination strategy based on repeated booster doses of the original vaccine composition is unlikely to be appropriate or sustainable,” the organization said in a statement.

The holy grail, Dr. Virk says, would be a single-dose vaccine that provides blanket coverage from the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its mutations forever. “I don’t know if we’ll ever find one,” she says. “But if we can get more people protection and immunity, fewer variants will emerge so we won’t have to update the vaccines so frequently.”

In the meantime, experts agree that the Omicron vaccine isn’t going to be the thing that ends the pandemic; only widespread adoption of vaccines—any COVID vaccines, really—will do that.

The resounding message here is to act now. “You shouldn’t be waiting for the Omicron vaccine or any other pot of gold at the end of the rainbow,” Dr. Virk says. “Every study, country, research institution, and public health agency agrees that two doses of an existing vaccine are better than nothing and three doses are protective against hospitalization and death. The vaccinations we have are now are incredibly effective and safe.”



Hint: It’s different for every single person.

Eating healthy is important, but it can be a process in and of itself: Should I eat organic fruit? Do I need grass-fed beef? Should all juice be cold-pressed? And that’s before you even start figuring out how much of each macronutrient—carbs, fats, and protein—you need on a day-to-day basis. Sigh.

Fortunately, things don’t have to be so difficult, at least when it comes to arguably the most important macronutrient for active folks: protein.

Here, why the filling nutrient is such a key part of your diet, how to gauge your individual protein needs, the real scoop about calories in protein—plus protein-packed picks for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anything in between to help you make sure you’re getting enough protein per day.

Why Protein Matters

Think of your body like a never-ending construction site. Protein is the workforce required to keep the project running smoothly.

“You’re continually using protein to support hormones, enzymes, immune cells, hair, skin, muscle, and other protein tissues,” says Cynthia Sass, R.D., a performance nutritionist based in New York and Los Angeles. “On top of that, protein is needed to recover from the stress of training.” After exercise, your body uses protein (broken down into amino acids) to repair damaged muscle fibers, building them back stronger than before.

Not getting enough protein per day (and in overall) could lead to muscle loss, weak hair and nails, or immune issues. But, bare minimum, it’ll hold you back from the best results in the gym. Luckily, most Americans do get enough protein in their diet. In fact, “there are some estimates that the average American gets two times the recommended protein intake,” says Alex Caspero, R.D., a dietitian based in St. Louis. But acing the right amount of protein is important. “The body can only use 15 to 25 grams of protein at a time for muscle building,” says Caspero. “The rest of that gets broken down and used as fuel, or stored as fat.”

But here’s the thing: Everyone’s protein needs are different.

How Much Protein Do You Need?

While dietitians have differing thoughts on the exact amount of protein each body needs per day, there are some general rules of thumb in place to help guide you. The National Institutes of Health’s Dietary Reference Intake (DRI), which describes the minimum amount required for the body to function properly, says you should aim for 0.36 grams of protein for each pound you weigh per day. That’s about 46 grams of protein per day for the average woman. (To put things into perspective in your overall macro mix, gram-for-gram, there are 4 calories in protein, 4 calories in carbs, and 9 calories in fat.)

But many experts, including Molly Kimball, R.D., C.S.S.D., a dietitian with Ochsner Health in New Orleans, suggest fit many folks need far more than that. After all, that amount only prevents a protein deficiency, says Kimball—it’s the minimum grams protein per day requirement. It isn’t optimal for muscle repair and growth, a reduced risk of injury, or feeling fuller longer.

How much protein you actually need depends on who you ask and who you are. Generally speaking, the more you move, the more protein you need. “The less wear and tear you put on your body, the less repair work there is to do,” says Sass. Your age plays a role, too. Some research suggests that as you age, your body performs better with higher amounts of protein. One study published in The American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism found that when people over age 50 ate about double the DRI of protein, their bodies were better at building muscle.

If you’re working out hard on a regular basis (think: both cardio and strength training on the reg), Sass notes that the ideal amount of protein per day for muscle building and maintenance is about 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight—ideally spread out evenly throughout the day. So, if you’re working your butt off, aim for 0.75 to 1 gram of protein per pound of healthy body weight.

In short, that means whatever your weight was when you’ve felt your strongest and healthiest. The distinction is important considering if you’re severely underweight or overweight, you don’t want to just use the numbers on the scale as a reference for your protein intake.

Your absolute minimum, if you’re not active or only slightly active, should be about 0.5 grams of protein per pound of healthy body weight, notes Kimball. For an active 130-pound woman (59 kg), a ballpark protein breakdown would be roughly 24 grams of protein per meal including snacks or about 97 grams of protein per day (more or less, depending on your activity level).

If you’re still concerned about protein needs (vegans and vegetarians can sometimes require more attention) a registered dietitian can help you ID the ideal amount of protein for you.

Consider these meals and snacks (one from each category), with their respective amounts of protein, when determining your meals and your macros for the day.

Protein-Focused Breakfast Options

Omelet with avocado and a side pea protein “yogurt”: 24g

Made from two whole, large, organic, pasture-raised eggs, an omelet packs 12 grams of protein, says Sass. Pair with veggies and avocado, with a side of plain pea protein Greek “yogurt” for another 12 grams.

Egg “muffins” with two slices of whole-grain toast: 22g

Kimball suggests scrambling up two eggs in muffin tins and pairing them with whole-grain toast for an early a.m. protein boost.

One Fage Greek yogurt: 18g

Not into eggs? One 6-ounce container of Fage Total 0% Greek yogurt ($1, contains 18 grams of protein.

Protein-Focused Lunch Options

Salad with grilled chicken: 24g

A large salad made with leafy greens, extra-virgin olive oil, and balsamic vinaigrette, topped with 2 ounces of grilled chicken breast would be about 14 grams of protein, says Sass. Add half a cup of cooked chilled quinoa and you’ll tack on another 4 grams. Half a cup of chickpeas gives you another 6 grams of protein—that’s a salad with 24 grams of total protein.

Protein and nut butter smoothie: 27g

If you’re eating lunch on the go, hit up a smoothie bar or whip up your own smoothie made from a scoop of protein powder (typically about 20 grams of protein), frozen fruit, a handful of kale, fresh ginger, unsweetened almond milk, and 2 tablespoons of almond butter (which adds 7 grams of protein), suggests Sass.

An old-school turkey wrap with vegetables: 25g

Don’t dismiss the old-school brown paper bag lunch. Three ounces of lean meat (in this case turkey) will provide about 20 grams of protein. Pair that with nutritious whole-grain bread, and you’re at about 25 grams, says Kimball. Include your favorite veggies or spreads as fillings.

Protein-Focused Dinner Ideas

Salmon with Brussels sprouts: 25g

One cup of Brussels sprouts (oven roasted in herbs and extra-virgin olive oil) provides 3 grams of protein. A little bit of cauliflower gives you about 2 more grams. Top it with 3 ounces of broiled Alaskan salmon for another 22 grams of protein. Complete the dish with 1 cup cooked spaghetti, suggests Sass.

Bean bowl: 22.5g

Beans are a solid but sometimes overlooked source of protein and a great option for plant-based eaters. Prep a red bean power bowl packed with mixed greens, veggies, and fruit for an easy 22.5 grams of protein.

Banza mac and cheese: 18g

Sometimes, cooking from scratch isn’t quite in the cards. No pressure. Banza chickpea pasta ($4, provides a solid dose of protein (far more than your traditional types of pasta, which usually clock in around 7 grams).

Protein-Focused Snack Ideas

A nutrition bar: 10g

Not all protein bars are created equal—but Protein One bars pack 10 grams of protein, 90 calories, and 1 gram of sugar. Plus, they’re easy enough to store in your desk drawer to pull out any time a craving hits.

Pistachios: 6g

Plant-based protein, like the kind found in pistachios, provides more bang for your calorie buck, says Caspero. “Nearly 90 percent of the fats found in pistachios are the better-for-you mono- and polyunsaturated types. Plus, they’re a good source of protein and fiber for a trio that helps keep you fuller longer, compared to just protein.”

Cottage cheese: 25g

Kimball favors protein-rich cottage cheese as a nighttime snack—especially for those who find themselves hungry before bed. Rich in a slow-digesting protein called casein, it’ll do away with hunger pangs the healthy way, keeping you full throughout the night.


A booster clinic for teens in Berkley, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, on Thursday.Credit…Emily Elconin for The New York Times

Booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines aren’t just preventing infections with the contagious Omicron variant — they’re also keeping infected Americans from ending up in the hospital, according to data published on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The extra doses are 90 percent effective against hospitalization with the variant, the agency reported. Booster shots also reduced the likelihood of a visit to an emergency department or urgent care clinic. The extra doses were most effective against infection and death among Americans aged 50 and older, the data showed.

Over all, the new data show that the vaccines were more protective against the Delta variant than against Omicron, which lab studies have found is partially able to sidestep the body’s immune response.

It is generally accepted that booster shots keep people from becoming infected, at least for a while. Data from Israel and other countries have also suggested that boosters can help prevent severe illness and hospitalization, especially in older adults.

“Data from other countries have also shown significant benefit of getting the booster, but this is really showing it in the U.S.,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, said of the figures released on Friday. “These numbers should be very convincing.”

On Thursday night, the C.D.C. published additional data showing that in December, unvaccinated Americans 50 years and older were about 45 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who were vaccinated and got a third shot.

Yet less than 40 percent of fully vaccinated Americans who are eligible for a booster shot have received one.

New reported doses administered by day

Dec. 20Jan. 2021Feb.MarchAprilMayJuneJulyAug.Sept.Oct.Nov.Dec.Jan. 2022135 million doses1.14 million averagedoses per dayNew dosesreportedSource: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | Note: Line shows a seven-day average. Data not updated on some weekends and holidays. Includes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as of March 5, 2021. The C.D.C., in collaboration with the states, sometimes revises data or reports a single-day large increase in vaccinations from previous dates, which can cause an irregular pattern in the daily reported figures.

Friday’s results are based on three new studies led by the C.D.C. In one study, researchers analyzed hospitalizations and visits to emergency departments and urgent care clinics in 10 states from Aug. 26, 2021 to Jan. 5, 2022.

Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization with the Omicron variant fell to just 57 percent in people who had received their second dose more than six months earlier, the authors found. A third shot restored that protection to 90 percent.

It’s unclear whether protection from the boosters might also wane as it did after two shots, noted Natalie Dean, a biostatistician at Emory University.

“We just have to recognize that all these estimates of Omicron third-dose protection are going to be people who are pretty recently boosted,” she said. “We do wonder the durability of boosters themselves.”

When debating booster shot recommendations for all American adults, scientific advisers to the Food and Drug Administration and the C.D.C. repeatedly bemoaned the lack of booster shot data that was specific to the United States.

There are differences between Israel and the United States — for example, in the way Israel defines severe illness — that made it challenging to interpret the relevance of Israeli data for Americans, they said.

Omicron in retreat. Though the U.S. is still facing overwhelmed hospitals and nearly 2,000 Covid-19 deaths a day, encouraging signs are emerging. New cases are plummeting in several parts of the country, and recent studies of wastewater are helping scientists learn more about the Omicron variant.

Free tests and masks. The Biden administration’s new website allowing each U.S. household to order up to four free at-home tests is live. The White House also announced that it would make 400 million N95 masks available free of charge at health centers and pharmacies across the U.S.

Around the world. Austria is nearing the approval of a vaccine mandate for almost all adults, putting it on the path to be the first European country with such a wide-reaching mandate. In France, where a presidential election looms in April, officials set a timeline to lift restrictions over the next few weeks.

Staying safe. Worried about spreading Covid? Keep yourself and others safe by following some basic guidance on when to testwhich mask to pick and how to use at-home virus tests. Here is what to do if you test positive for the coronavirus.

Some members of the Biden administration supported the use of booster doses even before the scientific advisers of the agencies had a chance to review the data from Israel. Federal health officials intensified their boosters-for-all campaign after the arrival of the Omicron variant.

The C.D.C. now recommends booster shots for everyone 12 years and older, five months after getting two doses of the mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna, or two months after a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The usefulness of booster shots in Americans younger than 50 was a topic of vigorous debate in the fall. Several experts argued at the time that third shots were unnecessary for younger adults because two doses of the vaccine were holding up well.

Some of those experts remained unconvinced by the new data.

It was clear even months ago that older adults and those with weakened immune systems would benefit from extra doses of the vaccine, said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a member of the F.D.A.’s vaccine advisory committee.

But “where is the evidence that a third dose benefits a healthy young person?” he asked.

“If you’re trying to stop the spread of this virus, vaccinate the unvaccinated,” he added. “We keep trying to further protect the already protected.”

But other experts changed their minds in favor of boosters because of the highly contagious Omicron variant. Even if two doses were enough to keep young people out of hospitals, they said, a third dose could limit virus spread by preventing infections.

“They’re both data-driven, legitimate positions,” said John Moore, a virologist at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York. But at this point, the debate is over: “We are using boosters in everyone, and that’s what’s happening.”


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