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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A series of preliminary studies suggest that cellular immunity elicited by vaccines or prior COVID infections remains effective against the Omicron variant.

Why it matters: This form of immunity is associated with protection against severe disease. That means that while vaccinated people or those with prior infections are significantly less protected against Omicron infection, they're unlikely to become seriously ill.

Yes, but: It's still unclear how likely the Omicron variant is in the first place to cause serious disease, even in people who haven't been vaccinated or previously infected.

  • Either way, this preliminary research — which has not yet been peer-reviewed — offers encouraging news for billions of people around the world, and is at least partially why Omicron isn't causing as high of hospitalization rates as other variants.

What they found: Multiple recent preprint studies, two of which were posted online yesterday, have found that T cell responses in vaccinated people or those with prior infections remain durable against Omicron.

  • That's in contrast with their neutralizing antibody responses, which are generally associated with protection against infections and aren't as effective against Omicron.
  • Vaccinated people who have received booster shots — or previously infected people who are also vaccinated — have greater levels of neutralizing antibodies, other initial studies have found.

Details: "Our data suggest that current vaccines may provide substantial protection against severe disease due to the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant despite reduced neutralizing antibody responses and increased breakthrough infections," one of the studies released yesterday concluded.

The bottom line: There are multiple forms of immunity, and it appears that at least one of them — one that keeps people alive and out of the hospital — is holding up well against Omicron.

Go deeper

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February.
  2. Vaccines: The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: New York Supreme Court strikes down Gov. Hochul's mask mandate for public areas — Sarah Palin tests positive for COVID, delaying defamation trial — Virginia school boards sue Gov. Youngkin for lifting mask mandate.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly COVID antibody treatments

A coldbox containing monoclonal antibody treatments at a Regeneron clinic in Pembroke Pines, Florida, in August. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FDA said Monday it's limiting the use of two monoclonal antibody therapies as COVID-19 treatments because data indicates they're "highly unlikely" to be effective against the dominant Omicron variant.

Driving the news: The FDA revised the authorizations for Regeneron and Eli Lilly "to limit their use to only when the patient is likely to have been infected with or exposed to a variant that is susceptible to these treatments," per a statement from the agency.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Pentagon: 8,500 troops on high alert for possible deployment to eastern Europe

Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has placed 8,500 U.S. troops on "heightened preparedness to deploy" to eastern Europe in case NATO activates its rapid-response force over tensions with Russia, the Pentagon announced Monday.

Why it matters: No decisions have been made to actually deploy U.S. forces, but the heightened alert level will allow the military to rapidly shore up NATO's eastern flank in the event that Russia invades Ukraine. The Pentagon warned that Russia has shown "no signs of de-escalating," and continues to amass troops on Ukraine's borders.