Karl Lauterbach is probably the worst health minister Germany has ever had. He is also a very stupid person. He really, really wants you to worry about Omicron, but every day Omicron fails to be worrisome. Even as cases surge, hospitalisations remain more or less flat, and official Corona deaths remain well below their peak in 2021, if anything on a slight downward trend.
Like a lot of stupid people, it is very important to Lauterbach that he be perceived as intelligent. Towards this end, he likes to tweet about “studies” and “research.” Because he is a total idiot, he rarely understands what he’s talking about, and often makes a fool of himself.
“Omicron shouldn’t be underestimated,” Lauterbach declared on Saturday. “Research suggests that you can catch it again relatively soon after infection. Longer protection, as with Delta, is less likely. Repeated infections are not without danger.”
Es ist wichtig, Omicron nicht zu unterschätzen. Studien legen nahe, dass man sich relativ kurz nach der Infektion wieder anstecken kann. Ein langer Schutz wie bei Delta ist weniger wahrscheinlich. Wiederholte Infektionen sind nicht ungefährlich. https://t.co/vJwvuV4vYa
— Prof. Karl Lauterbach (@Karl_Lauterbach) February 5, 2022
He’s talking about the paper we looked at last week. Its basic findings are that Omicron breakthrough infections don’t really provide the vaccinated with much Omicron-specific immunity, and that in fact they elicit a very attenuated antibody response overall because they’re so mild. This is not an Omicron-specific effect; humans are continually reinfected by a lot of mild respiratory viruses, presumably because mild infections induce only mild immunity. Lauterbach, in other words, wants you to worry about more severe Delta because it’s dangerous, and he wants you to worry about less severe Omicron because it’ll reinfect you. There’s no way you can ever stop freaking out in Lauterbach-land.
Just the day before, Lauterbach had retweeted some other account, emphasising precisely that the mildness of Omicron means reduced immune protection, compared to prior strains. He gave no signs of understanding the argument; he’s only interested in defending his controversial role in cutting the duration of “recovered” status from six to three months.
However that may be, the new refrain is that Omicron is too mild to get us to the fabled land of Herd Immunity, and so we need to keep training our immune systems to focus on vintage extinct SARS-2 spike, which will also never take us to Herd Immunity.
The Omicron-booster macaque trial has already made the rounds: If you vaccinate monkeys against wild-type SARS-2 spike, and then give them a wild-type SARS-2 spike booster, they develop a more effective antibody response to Omicron, than monkeys that receive Omicron-specific boosters.
This is Original Antigenic Sin, as the study authors admit (from p. 18):
The observation that boosting with either mRNA-1273 or mRNA-Omicron resulted in the expansion of a similarly high frequency of cross-reactive B cells likely stems from the principle of original antigenic sin, otherwise termed antigenic imprinting, whereby prior immune memory is recalled by a related antigenic encounter. …
The question therefore is whether there is added value from boosting with a heterologous vaccine matched to the dominant circulating variant, or whether cross-reactive B cell recall immunity elicited by boosting with the original vaccine is sufficient to reduce infection and disease severity.
If the Omicron-specific vaccines only protect against Omicron infection because they elicit high levels of antibodies that work against both strains, Omicron-specific vaccines are pointless at best. At worst, they’ll be less effective at calling forth that cross-reactive response than the old vaccines.