The rise of the highly mutated omicron variant of coronavirus raised concerns that existing vaccines may be less effective and sparked a new vaccine race to develop shots to tackle the strain – here’s how the makers of the most widely used vaccines in the world US intend to target the variant:
Johnson & Johnson said it has begun work on an ommicron-specific vaccine and blood serum test of people participating in its booster trials to see if it can neutralize the variant, although Mathai Mammen, head of research and development at J&J’s vaccine division, said: Janssen, said the company is “confident” in the strong immune responses the vaccine has shown against other variants in clinical trials.
Moderna chief executive Stéphane Bancel told CNBC it could take months to ship an omicron-specific vaccine — Moderna president Stephen Hoge said the company is already working on a booster and multivariate vaccine targeting omicron — and put forward the idea. to a higher dose of the existing vaccine, depending on how much efficacy has decreased.
Bancel warned of a “material drop” in vaccine efficacy due to the high number of mutations of omicron on the virus’s spike protein, which most vaccines use to train the immune system, according to an interview with the Financial times.
BioNTech chief Ugur Sahin is more optimistic that the vaccine, developed with Pfizer, will still provide a high level of protection against serious diseases, but expects the variant to potentially infect fully vaccinated people.
Sahin said booster shots of the existing vaccine should improve this protection and help prevent infection with omicron, though he acknowledged that a modified vaccine might be needed and said the company could ship one in about 100 days if required.
AstraZeneca is also investigating whether omicron will have an impact on its vaccine and the University of Oxford, the co-developer of the injection, said the injection has consistently provided “very high levels of protection against serious disease” against new variants introduced in the past year. have emerged and there is “no evidence so far that ommicron is different.”
Novavax, which produces a protein-based injection based on an older strain of vaccine technology, said it is evaluating whether its injection will work against omicron and has taken steps to allow it to begin commercial production of an ommicron as early as January. specific injection. .
What to watch out for
There are numerous ways vaccine makers can respond to a new variant such as omicron, said leading U.S. infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci during a press conference. They could ramp up production from existing injections, develop a single injection with characteristics of older and newer strains (known as a multivalent vaccine), or produce a “variant-specific” booster shot, he explained.
What we don’t know
Despite the race to understand the new variant, there is still not much data on how effective Covid-19 vaccines are against ommicron. Most experts have urged caution and emphasize the need to examine the variant more closely. Even drug companies – optimistic or pessimistic – recognize the need for further research, and our immune system is made up of more than just antibodies, which are usually assessed in lab tests with test subjects’ blood serum. World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan told the Financial times “It is premature to draw any conclusions about the efficacy of vaccines against omicron”, adding: “we need to be patient… to really understand whether this variant is able to counteract the immunity generated by existing vaccines. vanquish.”
“Until we know more, we need to be careful and take steps to slow the spread of this new variant,” said Professor Dame Sarah Gilbert, one of the makers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. While it’s possible that the changes in ommicron could better enable it to circumvent the protection offered by vaccines, Gilbert said the injections could still provide the same level of protection against serious illness and death. “This won’t be the last time a virus threatens our lives and livelihoods,” she said. “The truth is, the next one could be even worse. It could be more contagious, or more deadly, or both.”
Early data suggests a previous coronavirus infection offers little protection against reinfection with omicron, which the WHO labeled a variant of concern after researchers in South Africa raised the alarm about a highly mutated form of virus in late November. It appears to be spreading rapidly in South Africa, causing a spike in new infections, but may cause less serious illness in those who become infected, preliminary data shows. It will take time to gather hard evidence, and in the absence of this, governments around the world rushed into action to cut off travel to southern Africa, something South African officials complained and unfairly punished the country for having warned about the new variant. Omicron has now been detected in 19 states in the US and a growing number of countries around the world.
Omicron fuels debate over COVID vaccine booster (Nature)
Whether or not Omicron is a game changer, variants are the future of Covid (Bloomberg)
Vaccine Makers Divided Over Protection Against Omicron Variant (FT)
previous Covid infection may not protect against Omicron, scientist warns as data suggests variant overtakes Delta in South Africa (Forbes)
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