While little is yet known about a new Omicron strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the CEO of Moderna, a pharmaceutical company that produced a vaccine to ward of the initial strain of the virus, said it could be up to 90 days before a new vaccine to target Omicron is developed.
The new variant features more mutations on the spike protein, the part of the virus the mRNA vaccines — including Moderna’s – target. However, as The New York Times notes, experts believe that the current vaccines “are likely to offer protection from severe illness and death.”
Stephane Bancel told CNBC’s Squawk Box that his company is currently researching the variant found last week in South Africa and already spreading in Europe and elsewhere.
Bancel “fears that the antibodies Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine provides to fight against the virus could be eight times lower against the new strain,” The Daily Mail reported.
“There are two key things that we don’t know yet and will find out in [coming] weeks,” Bancel said. “One is vaccine efficacy. What is the impact of this new variant on the vaccine efficacy, and we should know that in around two weeks.”
“We believe this [variant] is highly infectious… it seems to be much more infectious than Delta,” Bancel added.
According to The New York Times, experts “have said that it could be two weeks or longer before more information about the variant’s transmissibility, and the severity of illness it causes, is available.”
“Given the large level of mutation it is highly possible that the efficacy of the vaccines, all of them, is going down,” Bancel said.
The CEO said it will take Moderna researchers from two to six weeks to learn how effective their vaccine is against Omicron. He also said it could take up to 90 days to create a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine to handle the new variant.
Omicron poses a “very high” global risk and could bypass even those who have been vaccinated, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Monday.
The strain is a “highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations … some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility,” the U.N. agency said.
“The overall global risk related to the new variant … is assessed as very high,” WHO said, adding that Omicron “has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic.”
But a doctor in South Africa suggested that the situation might not be quite so dire. “A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain has said that symptoms of the Omicron variant appear to be mild and could be treated at home,” according to The Sun newspaper. “Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters that on 18 November she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from the dominant Delta variant, albeit ‘very mild.’”
“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” Coetzee told The Telegraph.
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