Existing vaccines may be less effective against the Covid-19 Omicron variant than they are against the other variants out there, the CEO’s of Moderna and Pfizer admitted on Monday.
Speaking to the Financial Times, the CEO of Moderna warned that it would take months before pharmaceutical companies could manufacture new variant-specific jabs at scale.
He added that the high number of Omicron mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect human cells, and the rapid spread of the variant in South Africa suggested that the current crop of vaccines may need to be modified next year.
“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times.
He added: “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like, ‘This is not going to be good’.”
Pfizer: We don’t know yet, but the vaccines may protect less
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said Monday he expects the company’s Covid-19 treatment pill to be effective against the Omicron variant of the virus that causes Covid-19.
“The good news when it comes to our treatment, it was designed with that in mind, it was designed with the fact that most mutations are coming in the spikes,” Bourla told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
“So that gives me a very high level of confidence that the treatment will not be affected, our oral treatment will not be affected by this virus.”
While Bourla was optimistic about the efficacy of the pill called Paxlovid, he said the impact of Omicron on the company’s two-dose vaccine remains to be seen.
“I don’t think that the result will be the vaccines don’t protect,” Bourla said. “I think the result could be, which we don’t know yet, the vaccines protect less.”
Bourla said Pfizer has already begun work to manufacture a new vaccine. Whether or not it will be necessary to use it is still in question at the moment.
Greek scientist at Yale comments on Omicron and vaccines
In a series of tweets, Nicholas Christakis, Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale, said “it’s possible that triply vaccinated people may actually be well protected against Omicron, but it is also too early to be sure. If I had to guess, I do think that such a high level of vaccination would be at least moderately protective.
The Omicron variant might materially reduce vaccine efficacy regarding transmission; However, it might not meaningfully subvert vaccine efficacy regarding death, he added.
“I am not very confident about this yet. It’s just too early to know if and by how much omicron evades current vaccines.”
Warning by WHO
The warnings by scientists follow the appeal by the World Health Organization (WHO) for nations to accelerate vaccinations in their high-priority groups.
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said in a statement, adding “The overall global risk …is assessed as very high.”
The Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that the Omicron variant demonstrates how “perilous and precarious” the situation was worldwide as vaccination rates in some countries remain low, either due to a lack of availability or resistance to the inoculation.
Biden: We have the best vaccines to fight Omicron
President Joe Biden reassured the nation on Monday without downplaying the variant’s seriousness, saying that Omicron is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
The President also said that his administration hopes to continue their fight against Covid-19 into the winter without relying on “shutdowns or lockdowns,” and instead focusing on vaccination.
“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientist and we’re learning more every single day,” he added, saying that America “will fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable action and speed– not chaos and confusion.”