Moderna Chief Predicts Reduced Vaccine Efficacy Against Omicron

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COVID-19 vaccine
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Stéphane Bancel calls the Omicron variant concerning, warns of a reduction in vaccine efficacy against the heavily mutated strain.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has sent scientists scrambling for further info on the new strain. Experts predict that the heavily mutated strain could be the worst variant yet. Moreover, many are concerned over the effectiveness of the current vaccines against Omicron. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel warned of an inevitable reduction in vaccine efficacy against Omicron.

There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant]. 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’.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO

The Omicron variant, which was recently added to WHO’s list of variants of concern, possesses a great number of mutations. According to recent reports, the virus has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein. Thus, raising concerns about the virus’s increased transmissibility. However, despite the early reports, there is not enough data to say with certainty what impact the variant will have on vaccines. Scientists believe at least two more weeks of research are required for a better understanding of the new strain.

Vaccine Manufacturers Work on Changes

The Moderna CEO believes that similar to what we saw with Delta and other strains, the vaccine efficacy will likely also go down against Omicron. Therefore, multiple pharmaceutical firms have already started working on making changes to their vaccines. Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Novavax have all begun formulating a vaccine better suited for the Omicron variant.

Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern. This strategy includes three levels of response should the currently authorized 50 microgram booster dose of mRNA-1273 prove insufficient to boost waning immunity against the Omicron variant.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO

The Omicron variant has now made its way to Israel, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, UK, US, and Belgium. This global spread has caused various health officials to recommend booster doses to the adult population. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently updated its policy on booster shots. The regulatory body now recommends a COVID-19 booster shot to all those aged 18 years and older. However, health experts have criticized the move. The World Health Organization has expressed disappointment with Western nations administering booster doses when the majority of low-income countries remain unvaccinated. They further blamed vaccine inequity for the emergence of new variants.

While the world awaits more information about the Omicron variant, health experts are advising people to continue wearing masks and practicing COVID-19 safety protocols.

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