Here’s what vaccine manufacturers have said about the Omicron variant

BARRIE — As researchers continue to study the new COVID-19 variant Omicron stoking fears around the globe, vaccine manufacturers are issuing guidance on their shots’ effectiveness.

Here’s a look at what vaccine manufacturers have said so far.

The CEO of Moderna says the company’s COVID-19 Spikevax vaccine is unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant as it has been against others.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said he thinks there will be a “material drop.”

“I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data,” he said. “But all the scientists I’ve talked to… are like ‘this is not going to be good.”

Bancel said the current vaccines will likely need to be modified, due to the high number of mutations to the spike protein in the Omicron variant.

What’s more, on Monday, Bancel told CNBC that it could be “months” before the company develops and ships a vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant.

He told the outlet it will take at least two weeks to determine how much the Omicron mutations have impacted the vaccine’s efficacy.

Meanwhile, BioNTech’s chief executive told Reuters the company’s COVID-19 vaccine manufactured with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, will likely offer strong protection against the Omicron variant.

Ugur Sahin told the outlet that “it’s likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron.”

He said, in the next two weeks, lab tests will analyze the blood of people who have received two or three doses of the Comirnaty vaccine to determine if new vaccines are required.

He said BioNTech is working to upgrade the vaccine, but added that they are not sure it will be necessary.

Sahin said he doesn’t think there is a reason to be “particularly worried.”

“The only thing that worries me at the moment is the fact that there are people that have not been vaccinated at all,” he told Reuters.

In a statement on Tuesday, the University of Oxford, which developed the Vaxzevria COVID-19 vaccine alongside AstraZeneca, said there was no evidence that the shot would not prevent severe disease from the Omicron variant.

The University said it has the “necessary tools and processes in place” for “rapid development of an updated COVID-19 vaccine” if necessary.

JOHNSON & JOHNSON

In a statement issued on Monday, Johnson & Johnson said it has been “closely monitoring newly emerging COVID-19 variants” and has been “evaluating the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine across variants” including Omicron.

“The company is testing blood serum from participants in completed and ongoing booster studies to look for neutralizing activity against the Omicron variant,” the release reads.

Johnson & Johnson said the company is also “pursuing” an Omicron-specific vaccine and will “progress it as needed.”

AN ‘UNUSUAL’ VARIANT

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam, said the Omicron variant is “unusual” because it has a high number of mutations in two key areas of the virus’s spike protein.

“One area of mutations is in the spike receptor binding domain,” she said. “Where the virus attaches itself and invades our cells.”

She said this could signify a “potential for increased transmissibility of the virus.”

The other area of mutation is in the antigenic supersite, Tam said, “because it is a target for our body’s defensive or neutralizing antibodies.”

“Due to the potential for increased transmissibility and the possibility of increased resistance to vaccine induced protection, we’re concerned about this new variant and are closely monitoring the evolving situation,” she told reporters.

The variant was first reported in South Africa. On Friday, Canada implemented a travel ban, barring foreign travellers from seven countries in southern Africa in a bid to stave off cases of Omicron.

Two days later, on Sunday, the first cases of the Omicron variant were detected in Ontario.

With files from Reuters

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