Vaccines currently trying to fight COVID-19 may not be as effective against the omicron variant, warned the CEO of Moderna Inc (NASDAQ:MRNA) Stephane Bancel. He stated it is unlikely that vaccines will be as efficient as they have been against previous strains, giving financial markets new reasons for concern about the future of the pandemic.
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“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” said Bancel in an interview with the Financial Times, as he added: “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’.”
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The pharma giant already assured that its staff is working on a hypothetically-effective new vaccine against this variant that could be ready in early 2022.
Vaccine resistance could lead to more illnesses and hospitalizations and prolong the pandemic, and Bancel’s comments prompted a sell-off in growth-prone assets such as oil, stocks, and the Australian dollar.
The Moderna chief added that the high number of mutations in the spicular protein that the virus uses to infect human cells means that current vaccines will likely have to be modified.
Moderna's boss had previously told CNBC that it would take months before a vaccine against omicron can be distributed.
Despite the lack of information about its severity, the fear of the omicron has already caused delays in some national economic reopening plans and the reimposition of some travel and movement restrictions.
Scott Gottlieb, a director of Pfizer Inc (NYSE:PFE) and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC on Monday: “There’s a reasonable degree of confidence in vaccine circles that [with] at least three doses . . . the patient is going to have fairly good protection against this variant.”
U.S. President Joe Biden was short to underline that the omicron variant was a cause for concern, “not a cause for panic,” and said that the government’s healthcare experts “believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease.”
With regards to the possibility of distributing a vaccine targeting omicron exclusively could take some time, as “[Moderna] and Pfizer cannot get a billion doses next week. The maths doesn’t work. But could we get the billion doses out by the summer? Sure.”