Covid vaccine maker Moderna warned today that it will take months to develop an Omicron-specific booster shot, despite President Joe Biden telling Americans they may need another shot to protect them from the variant.
Stephane Bancel, chief executive at the Massachusetts-based vaccine manufacturer, said he expects the highly developed Covid variant will cause a “material drop” in the effectiveness of existing vaccines, warning the outcome “will not be good.”
He warned that it will take until the summer of 2022 for Moderna to develop a new vaccine and scale production to vaccinate entire populations.
Scientists say it will take two weeks to really work out how effective stings are against Omicron, which has twice as many mutations on its spike protein as Delta.
The strain is expected to make current vaccines significantly weaker at preventing infections, but it’s less clear how it will affect hospitalizations and deaths.
Biden said at a White House news conference Monday: “We do not yet believe additional measures will be needed.
“But so that we are prepared if necessary, my team is already working with officials from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.”
The Botswana variant has about 50 mutations, more than 30 of which are on the spike protein. The current crop of vaccines allows the body to recognize the version of the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But the mutations can make the spike protein look so different that the body’s immune system has trouble recognizing and fighting it. And three of the spike mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it penetrate the body’s cells more easily. Meanwhile, it lacks a membrane protein (NSP6) seen in previous iterations of the virus, which experts believe could make it more contagious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) that have been present in all variants of concern to date and have been linked to infectiousness
Stephane Bancel (pictured earlier this year on CNBC), chief executive at the Massachusetts-based vaccine manufacturer, said he expects the highly developed Covid variant will cause a ‘material drop’ in the effectiveness of existing vaccines
President Joe Biden (pictured during his White House press conference Monday) said his administration had already begun working with drug companies to lay the groundwork in case a new generation of vaccines would be needed to deal with the epidemic. emerging Omicron variant of COVID-19
Moderna is working with other vaccine manufacturers on a modified version of their shot to combat the Omicron variant.
But scientists say it could take 100 days to become available.
Bancel told the Financial Times his company could deliver between two and three billion doses by 2022, but added it would be dangerous to shift all production to an Omicron-specific injection while other variants of the virus remain in circulation. .
He also told CNBC’s Squawk Box that his company is investigating the variant and trying to determine how much risk it poses to Americans.
He fears that the antibodies provided by Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine to fight the virus could be eight times lower against the new strain.
“There are two important things that we don’t know yet that we will discover in [coming] weeks],” Bancel said.
‘One of them is the efficacy of vaccines. What is the impact of this new variant on the efficacy of the vaccine, and we should know in about two weeks.
‘We believe this’ [variant] is highly contagious… it seems much more contagious than Delta,” Bancel said.
However, he said it will still take two to six weeks for his company to really know how the vaccine interacts with the vaccines.
Bancel’s warning came as G7 health ministers held emergency talks about the new variant, which is spreading around the world and prompting countries to reopen their borders or impose new travel restrictions.
Bancel said researchers were concerned because 32 of the 50 mutations found in the Omicron variant were on the spike protein, part of the virus that vaccines use to boost the immune system against Covid.
His more alarming tone is in stark contrast to politicians’ attempts to convey calmness about Omicron.
Biden said he instructed regulators to push as soon as possible — without spending cuts — to quickly approve new vaccines.
Biden echoed his message in a series of tweets, saying he hoped that updated vaccinations or boosters would not be necessary as leaders around the world reacted hastily to Omicron
Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. population has now had one dose of the vaccine or more, but that still leaves millions unprotected across the country
He repeated the point in an evening tweet.
“In the event – hopefully unlikely – that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to Omicron, we will accelerate their development and implementation with every available tool,” he said.
“I spare no effort and remove all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the new variant poses a “serious” risk to the global recovery from the pandemic and that it is “very high” likely to be contagious enough to spread quickly.
Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa but believed to have originated in Botswana, is the most mutated form of the coronavirus found to date.
Biden returned from his Thanksgiving break on Sunday to be met by his scientific advisers as they prepared their response.
But in his speech, he insisted that the infectious new strain was no cause for alarm and said no new restrictions were needed.
“We will fight this variant with scientific and expert action and speed, not with chaos and confusion,” he said.
Even amid the urgent nature of the new variant, Biden managed to misuse his name.
“It’s called the Omnicron,” he said, inserting an extra ‘n’ — a mistake his coronavirus advisor, Dr Anthony Fauci, who was in the background, also committed on Sunday.
Hours after the speech, the CDC stepped up their guidance to recommend that all adults receive a booster.