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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  • Either way, this preliminary research — which has not yet been peer-reviewed — offers encouraging news for billions of people around the world, and is at least partially why Omicron isn't causing as high of hospitalization rates as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 14 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker

45 million Americans under winter storm watches near New England

Computer model projection showing the winds moving around the powerful East Coast storm on Saturday Jan. 29, 2022. Image: https://earth.nullschool.net

Nearly 45 million Americans are under winter weather alerts and warnings from North Carolina to northeastern Maine Thursday night, as a major winter storm threatens the region.

Why it matters: It is predicted to be the biggest blizzard since 2018 to strike the Northeast with more than 2 feet of snow possible in parts of eastern Massachusetts, according to the National Weather Service.

Judge nixes Gulf of Mexico oil leases in climate-focused ruling

Tug boats prepare to tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico on December 12, 2020 in Port Aransas, Texas. Photo: Tom Pennington/Getty Images

A federal judge on Thursday canceled the Biden administration's late 2021 sale of new oil-and-gas drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

Why it matters: The ruling that the greenhouse gas emissions analysis by the Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) was insufficient is a win for green groups that challenged the decision, as they seek to curb fossil fuel production.