Omicron Covid vaccine could take months, Moderna CEO says

‘It will be months before the Omicron-specific variant is ready to ship in massive quantities’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 29 November 2021 17:18
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Related video: Omicron variant detected in Canada

The CEO of Moderna has said that it would take months to create and deliver a vaccine targeting the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

But Stéphane Bancel told CNBC on Monday that a higher dose of the company’s booster could be available sooner.

“The higher dose could be done right away, but it will be months before the Omicron-specific variant is ready to ship in massive quantities,” he said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that omicron is a “variant of concern” and that it has between 26 and 30 different mutations of its spike protein, which connects it to cells in humans.

While the CEO said Moderna believes omicron is highly infectious, he added that it will take at least two weeks to understand how effective the current vaccines are against it.

He said it was “highly possible” that the current versions of the vaccine will not provide as much coverage against the new variant.

The CEO of Moderna Stephane Bancel is seen in this video frame grab as he speaks during an interview with AFP on November 17, 2020

“Depending on how much it dropped, we might decide on the one hand to give a higher dose of the current vaccine around the world to protect people, maybe people at very high risk, the immunocompromised, and the elderly should need a fourth dose,” he said.

The omicron variant was first discovered by scientists in South Africa and has since been found in at least 15 countries.

“I believe most countries that have direct flights from South Africa in the last seven to 10 days already have cases in their country that they may not be aware of,” Mr Bancel said.

The WHO has said that the main questions surrounding the new variant are how fast it can be transmitted, how strong the vaccines are against it, and how damaging it is compared to previous variants of the virus.

At least 44 countries have now restricted travel from countries in southern Africa.

BioNTech said on Monday that the company has already started developing a vaccine focused on combatting the omicron variant.

“We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations on the omicron variant as well as the development of an adapted vaccine as part of our standard procedure for new variants,” a company spokesperson told Insider.

“The first steps of developing a potential new vaccine overlap with the research necessary in order to evaluate whether a new shot will be needed. The objective of this approach, which was initiated last Thursday, is to move forward quickly if a variant-specific vaccine is needed.

“We expect data from the laboratory tests in about two weeks. These data will provide more information about whether [omicron] could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.”

The company told Bloomberg that it’s standard to start developing new vaccines at the same time as the variant’s effect on current vaccines is investigated “in order not to waste any time”.

“Lab tests will deliver more information on whether or not adaption of the vaccine will be necessary,” the company said.

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