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'UK came within days of Omicron disaster,' says expert

'UK came within days of Omicron disaster,' says expert


New data from London Medical Laboratory shows half the UK population had ‘low’ antibody levels by the autumn. The booster programme came just in time to save an Omicron nightmare before Christmas, says expert.


New data from London Medical Laboratory shows average antibody levels this year were lower than expected, even after two jabs.

Half of all people tested by the laboratory had fewer than 500 AU/ml antibodies by the autumn. Below 500 AU/ml is widely considered to be a low value of antibodies. Had the booster programme been any later, the arrival of Omicron could have created a nightmare scenario, says leading Covid-19 testing expert Dr Quinton Fivelman, PhD, Chief Scientific Officer at London Medical Laboratory.

Explains Dr Fivelman: ‘We analysed average antibody levels over the course of the year, and the number of antibodies created by first and second jabs look to have declined more quickly than many experts had previously thought. Researchers had found correlations between the efficacy of flu jabs and coronavirus vaccinations. On this basis, it was thought antibody levels would decline at around 7% a month. Looking at our results, however, the decline seems to have been greater than anticipated.

‘By September, when the booster jab was first introduced, many of the 5 million people who had received their second jab before the beginning of April and had shown antibody values well into their thousands were already showing a significant falling off. A concerning 49% of the people we tested overall had antibody levels below the 500AU/ml mark, which we consider low, especially considering many were vaccinated in the summer. Around 17% had levels lower than 50AU/ml, which is classified negative; 2.5% had absolutely no Covid antibodies at all. This means that close to 20% of people we tested were classed as having no antibody response to Covid-19.

‘Had Omicron arrived in October, before the booster programme had really made an impact, it would have hit a community with significantly lower levels of antibodies and its effects would have been far more severe. We would certainly have had to resort to strong measures such as another lockdown, the closure of non-essential stores, clubs and restaurants and keeping kids home from school. Even then, it is not clear if these measures could have prevented the near collapse of the health system.

‘Looking at the thousands of people whose antibody levels we tested, these results were, frankly, disappointing. To put them into context, our research indicates that average antibody levels across the UK population ranged from 0 to 30,000 AU/ml (with a very small percentage responding very positively and registering up to the maximum 80,000 AU/ml). These results cover the spectrum from those who are unvaccinated through to those who have responded very well to the vaccine.

‘For those people recently vaccinated, it’s extremely difficult to generalise, but we’d probably hope to see a level within the lower to mid-thousands AU/ml. However, by September, half of the people we tested had levels below 500AU/ml. To be clear, the antibody level “cut-off value” is still not known and how long protection will last is still not fully understood. It is increasingly clear that everyone’s immune system is as individual as their thumbprint. We do know, however, that Omicron has raised the bar higher.

‘The good news from the USA is that the booster jab swiftly brings antibody levels back up. President Biden’s Chief Medical Advisor, Dr Anthony Fauci, has revealed data from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases showing that a third dose of Moderna boosted antibody levels by more than 20 times when tested in a laboratory. The findings support research from Pfizer, which show a booster shot increases antibody levels 25 times.

‘Dr Fauci states a third dose of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine boosted antibody levels well above the threshold needed to neutralise the virus. Nonetheless, as Omicron becomes the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the UK, we believe people should test their antibodies every three months or so to ensure they maintain sufficient protection against severe illness.

‘If anyone is concerned about their own immune response to the jabs and how well they continue to produce antibodies, the new generation blood tests available from London Medical Laboratory are highly accurate, quick and simple to carry out, either at home through the post, or at one of the many drop-in clinics that offer this test across London and the southeast. For full details see:

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Last Updated: 23-Dec-2021