A new strain of Covid-19 was first discovered in South Africa and was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on Friday. A situation which pushes vaccine manufacturers to adapt to this new strain.
Vaccine makers are already focusing their efforts on combating the new variant by testing higher doses of boosters, designing new boosters that anticipate strain mutations, and developing Omicron-specific boosters.
Moderna said he’s been working on a comprehensive strategy to predict worrisome variants since early 2021.
One approach is to double the current booster from 50 to 100 micrograms. Second, the vaccine maker studied two booster vaccines designed to anticipate mutations like those found in the omicron variant. The company also said it will step up efforts to create a booster candidate that specifically targets Omicron.
“From the start we have said that as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we be proactive as the virus evolves”, said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel.
“The mutations of the Omicron variant are cause for concern and for several days we have been working to execute our strategy as quickly as possible to combat this variant”, he added.
For their part, Pfizer and BioNTech said they expected more data on the Omicron variant to be collected within two weeks.
This information will help determine whether or not they need to change their current vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech said a vaccine designed for the omicron variant, if needed, could be ready to ship in about 100 days.
Johnson & Johnson said in a statement that it is also testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against the new variant.
The Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO on November 24, the WHO said. Preliminary evidence indicates that the variant poses an increased risk of reinfection due to the large number of mutations. Until recently, cases in South Africa were mostly from the delta variant, an earlier strain that has been pushing health systems to their limits since early summer. But omicron infections have increased in recent weeks, the WHO reported.
Even more worrying, cases of Omicron have emerged across the world, in the UK, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.