Moderna chief predicts existing vaccines will conflict with Omicron

Moderna’s chief executive predicted that current vaccines would be far less effective at tackling Omicron than earlier strains of Covid-19 and warned that it would take months for drug companies to mass-produce new variant-specific jabs. Will take

Stefan Bansel said the high number of omicron mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect human cells, and the rapid spread of variants in South Africa suggested that the current crop of vaccines may need to be modified next year. may be required.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level. , , We had it with Delta,” Bansel told the Financial Times in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He added: “I think it will be a physical drop. I just don’t know by how much because we need to wait for the data. But the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like ‘It’s not going to be good’. Going to do’.”

The comments from the Moderna chief executive have tried to get other public health experts and politicians more upbeat about the potential of existing vaccines to provide protection against Omicron.

On Monday, Scott Gottlieb, director of Pfizer and former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC: “There is a reasonable level of confidence in vaccine circles that [with] At least three doses. , , The patient is going to have pretty good protection against this type.”

US President Joe Biden later said that Omicron “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” adding that the government’s medical experts “believe that vaccines will continue to provide protection against serious disease”.

However, Bansel said scientists were concerned because 32 of the 50 mutations in the Omicron variant are on the spike protein, which makes current vaccines focused on boosting the human body’s immune system to combat COVID-19.

Most experts thought that such highly mutated versions would not come out for a year or two, Bansal said.

Bansal’s predictions upset investors in Asia, with equity and stock futures falling and crude oil prices plummeting.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index in Japan fell as much as 1.1 per cent after the FT report. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was down 2.3 per cent. S&P 500 futures erased early gains for US stocks to drop nearly 1 per cent, while the FTSE 100 was set to drop 1.2 per cent at the London open.

Concerns over the variant prompted traders to seek safety in bonds, pushing the yield on the 10-year US Treasury down 0.05 percentage points, while in commodity markets, Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, was down nearly 2 per cent at $20. Fell at 72.04. Barrel.

Moderna and Pfizer have become the vaccine suppliers of choice for most of the developed world due to the high effectiveness of their jabs, which are based on messenger RNA (mRNA) technology.

In August, Moderna announced that people with two doses of its jab “retained antibodies for six months, including variants of concern such as the delta variant”.

But studies show the company’s vaccine is less effective at preventing Delta outbreaks than earlier strains of the virus.

A Stanford University study of Delta outbreaks in a California prison published last month found that the company’s jab was 56.6 percent effective against infections. The researchers said this was well below the level of studies done before the emergence of the delta.

Moderna and Pfizer are now working on new vaccines to target the Omicron variant, which the World Health Organization has called “very high risk.”

Bansel said data indicating how current vaccines perform against the Omicron variant and whether it causes serious disease should be available within two weeks.

But he said it would take several months before the Omicron-specific vaccine was produced on a large scale, and suggested in the meantime there could be a case for giving more potent boosters to the elderly or people with compromised immune systems.

,[Moderna] And Pfizer can’t get a billion doses next week. Math doesn’t work. But can we get to billions of doses by summer? Sure,” said Bansal, who predicted that Moderna could make a total of 2bn-3bn doses in 2022.

But he said it would be risky to move Moderna’s entire production capacity to an Omicron-targeted jab at a time when other versions are still in circulation.

According to Johns Hopkins University, Bansel also hit out at critics who have accused vaccine manufacturers of not doing enough to support the jab rollout in developing countries such as South Africa, where only a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated. .

“It was a policy decision by most of the rich countries. In America we were told that we had no choice but to give 60 percent of our production to the US government. It was not Moderna’s decision, it was the US government’s decision,” They said.

Bansel also said there was a surplus of jabs earmarked for Africa and that 70m of Moderna vaccines were sitting in warehouses because Covax – an international body tasked with vaccinating low-income countries – or individual governments did not take their delivery. Was.

He said: “We are running out of space. That’s either because they don’t have customs documents, or they don’t have fridge space, or because the ability to dose weapons is a challenge.

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