Here’s how Covid-19 vaccine makers plan to tackle Omicron

Top line

The emergence of the highly mutated omicron variant of the coronavirus has raised concerns that existing vaccines may be less effective and has sparked a new vaccine race to develop vaccines to target the strain – here’s how the makers of the most widely used vaccines in the United States plan to target the variant:


Johnson & johnson noted he started work on a vaccine specific to omicron and is testing the blood serum of people in his booster trials to see if it can neutralize the variant, although Mathai Mammen, who heads research and development at the J & J’s vaccine division, Janssen, said the company is “confident” in the strong immune responses the vaccine has shown against other variants in clinical studies.

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel Recount CNBC, shipping of omicron specific vaccine could take months – Moderna President Stephen Hoge noted the company is already working on a booster and multivariate vaccine targeting omicron and pioneered the idea of ​​using a higher dose of the existing vaccine based on declining efficacy.

Bancel has warned of a “significant drop” in vaccine effectiveness due to the high number of omicron mutations on the virus spike protein, which most vaccines use to train the immune system, according to one. maintenance with the Financial Time.

The head of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, is more optimistic its vaccine, developed with Pfizer, will still offer a high level of protection against serious disease, but is expected that the variant can infect fully vaccinated people.

Sahin noted Booster shots of the existing vaccine are expected to improve that protection and could help prevent infection with omicron, although he acknowledged that a modified vaccine might be needed and said the company could ship one in about 100 days, if necessary.

AstraZeneca is also examine whether omicron will have an impact on its vaccine and the University of Oxford, the co-developer of the shot, noted the jab has consistently provided “very high levels of critical disease protection” against newer variants emerging over the past year and there is “so far no evidence that omicron is any different”.

Novavax, which produces a protein-based injection based on older vaccine technology, noted He’s evaluating whether his shot is working against the omicron and has taken steps to allow him to start commercial production of an omicron-specific jab as early as January.

What to watch out for

There are many ways that vaccine makers might respond to a new variant like omicron, Explain America’s chief infectious disease official Dr Anthony Fauci at a press briefing. They could speed up the production of existing shots, develop a unique shot that includes characteristics of older and newer varieties (known as versatile vaccine) or produce a “variant-specific” booster vaccine, he explained.

What we don’t know

Despite the race to understand the new variant, there is still not much data on the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines against omicron. Most experts urged caution and stressed the need to take a closer look at the variant. Even pharmaceutical companies – optimistic or pessimistic – recognize the need for more research, and our immune systems are built from it. Following as antibodies, which are usually evaluated in laboratory tests involving the blood serum of test subjects. World Health Organization Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan said to Financial Time “It is premature to draw conclusions about the efficacy of vaccines against omicron”, adding “we have to be patient … to really understand whether this variant is able to overcome the immunity generated by existing vaccines”.

Crucial quote

“Until we know more, we need to be careful and take action to slow the spread of this new variant,” said Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the creators of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. While it is possible that the modifications to omicron could better circumvent the protection offered by vaccines, Gilbert said the injections could still offer the same degree of protection against serious illness and death. “This will not be the last time a virus threatens our lives and our livelihoods,” she said. “The truth is, the next one could be worse. It could be more contagious, or more fatal, or both. ”

Key context

Early data suggests that a previous coronavirus infection offers little protection against re-infection with omicron, which the WHO identified as a variant of concern after researchers in South Africa sounded the alarm on a form highly mutated virus at the end of November. It appears to be spreading rapidly in South Africa and causing a spike in new infections, but may cause less severe illness in those who are infected, preliminary the data indicates. It will take time to gather hard evidence and, failing it, governments around the world have rushed to ban travel to southern Africa, which South African officials have said. complained unfairly punished the country for alerting the world to the new variant. Omicron has now been detected in 19 states in the United States and a growing number of countries around the world.

Further reading

Omicron Boosts Debate Over COVID Vaccine Recall (Nature)

Whether or not Omicron is a game changer, variants are the future of Covid (Bloomberg)

Vaccine makers split over protection against Omicron variant (FT)

Previous Covid infection may not protect against Omicron, warns scientist, as data suggests variant overtakes South Africa’s delta (Forbes)

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