Vaccine manufacturers split over protection against Omicron . variant

Two of the West’s three biggest vaccine manufacturers have tried to assuage fears of a new coronavirus, with Oxford University and BioNTech predicting existing shots will continue to prevent severe illness.

Markets fell earlier on Tuesday after the chief executive officer of Moderna, the third-largest vaccine maker, told the Financial Times that existing vaccines are likely to be much less effective than the Omicron variant and that it will take many months to produce replacement injections on a large scale.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level. . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” said Stéphane Bancel in an interview at Moderna’s headquarters in Massachusetts.

He added: “I think it will be a physical drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for data. But all the scientists I spoke to. . . like, ‘this isn’t going to be good’. ”

On Tuesday, Ugur Sahin, the head of BioNTech, the leading Covid-19 vaccine maker with Pfizer, had a more upbeat tone.

“We believe that individuals who are fully immunized will still have a high degree of protection against severe disease caused by Omicrons,” said Sahin, citing current knowledge of the mechanism. of vaccines and earlier examples from other variants. “We anticipate that booster vaccination will further enhance protection. . . and potentially protect against disease of any severity. “

BioNTech and Pfizer are ready to adjust the vaccine within six weeks and ship the first batches within 100 days if needed, he said. His remarks were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Separately, Oxford, which makes a different coronavirus vaccine than AstraZeneca, said in a statement “to date there is no evidence” that existing vaccines will not continue to protect against Omicron, as they were for the variants of interest earlier.

“We will carefully evaluate the effects of the presence of [Omicron] the university said. “Despite the emergence of new variants over the past year, vaccines continue to provide very high levels of protection against serious diseases and to date there is no evidence that Omicron is any What’s the difference?”

Oxford added that it had in place “the necessary tools and processes to rapidly develop an updated Covid-19 vaccine if needed”.

There is still a lack of reliable data on the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron, and the pharmaceutical industry’s forecasts have drawn brief objections from World Health Organization chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan.

“We believe it is too early to draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of the vaccine against Omicron,” she told the FT. “WHO has convened all of our expert teams and scientists are doing experiments to test the neutralization capacity of stored serum from recovered patients or vaccinated individuals. against the new variant. This will take a few weeks.”

“We need to be patient,” Swaminathan said, awaiting “adequate clinical efficacy studies to really understand if this variant can overcome the immunity generated by existing vaccines.” or not”.

Bancel said the high number of Omicron mutations in the mutant protein, the virus used to infect human cells, and the rapid spread of this variant in South Africa, suggest that the current vaccine crop may need to be revised next year.

He said scientists were worried because 32 50 mutants in the Omicron variant is the spike protein, the current vaccine is focused on to strengthen the human body’s immune system to fight Covid.

Most experts think such a highly mutated variant won’t emerge for another year or two, Bancel added.

The prediction of the leader of Moderna confused investors on Tuesday morning, with stock prices and crude oil prices falling. Comments from US Federal Reserve Chairman Jay Powell suggest the central bank may be able to rein in crisis stimulus more quickly than previously thought, spurring selling on Wall Street.

Additional reporting by Hannah Kuchler in London, Erika Solomon in Berlin and Hudson Lockett in Hong Kong

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