The French biotech firm Valneva says that early studies show its coronavirus vaccine is effective against Omicron and it might be able to deliver doses to the European public in April.
Officials from Valneva released a statement to the public on Wednesday that indicated its preliminary studies showed that three doses of its inactivated coronavirus vaccine candidate “neutralized” the Omicron variant.
Every single one of the serum samples that Valneva tested presented neutralizing antibodies against the original coronavirus and Delta variant, while 87% of the samples did so against the much more contagious Omicron variant.
“We are extremely pleased with these results,” said Valneva’s Chief Medical Officer Juan Carlos Jaramillo in the statement, adding that these results were added to an earlier Phase III trial that indicated improved immune response with two doses of the vaccine candidate.
“We continue to believe that VLA2001 could be an important component of the fight against COVID-19, and Valneva remains fully committed to bringing VLA2001 to people who need it as soon as we can,” Jaramillo added.
The firm stated that it expects to receive approvals for its vaccine within the first three months of this year; it is already providing the appropriate clinical data to the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as well as regulators in the UK and Bahrain.
Valneva vaccine may roll out in April if gets EMA approval
If the vaccine does earn approval by the EMA, Valneva says that it expects to start delivering doses across the continent in April.
Valneva’s stock had slumped since the beginning of January as investors worried over EMA comments on awaiting further data before it was able to make a decision.
Valneva announced in November 2021 that the European Commission signed an agreement for the Company to supply up to 60 million doses of VLA2001 over two years – including 24.3 million doses in 2022.
The company also announced in December that it had signed an agreement to supply one million doses of VLA2001 to the Kingdom of Bahrain, with deliveries planned in the first quarter of 2022 subject to approval from the Bahraini NHRA.
VLA2001 is currently the only whole virus, inactivated, adjuvanted vaccine candidate in clinical trials against COVID-19 in Europe. It is intended for active immunization of at-risk populations to prevent carriage and symptomatic infection with COVID-19 during the ongoing pandemic and potentially later for routine vaccination including addressing new variants.
The pharmaceuticals firm states that its vaccine may also be suited for boosting, as repeat booster vaccinations have been shown to work well with whole virus inactivated vaccines.
December trials in South Africa showed Omicron less susceptible to existing vaccines
Last month, after just three weeks of trials, a preliminary study in South Africa found that vaccine protection against Omicron may drop to 30% — but it does reduce severe disease.
A preliminary study published on December 15 indicates that Omicron causes milder disease but is more equipped to evade the protection of vaccines.
The study, which was conducted in South Africa by a private health insurance company, found that patients who tested positive for the omicron variant were hospitalized less often than patients who had other versions of Covid-19.
Although the study was only based on three weeks of data, it clearly indicates that vaccines are less capable of preventing breakthrough infections. Epidemiologists have stressed that waiting a few more weeks will provide a much stronger data pool, as Omicron had not yet become fully dominant and only a fraction of people with the variant have become sick enough to be hospitalized.
It is also possible that Omicron infections present milder symptoms due to immunity from prior infections or from vaccination. The mean age of the participants in the study was 34, and younger people often experience mild illness from Covid, which may mask how dangerous Omicron actually is to those at higher risk.
Nevertheless, the study found that the fourth wave of Coivd infections in South Africa –driven by Omicron — resulted in dramatically fewer hospitalizations than the first three waves: Omicron had 38 hospital admissions per 1,000 infections, Delta had 101 per 1,000, and Beta had 131 per 1,000.