The most recent variant of the Covid-19 virus called Omicron is still very new and scientists don’t have many information how the new variant might work and if it’s strong enough the change the path of the pandemic in the upcoming months.
While some scientists based in South Africa and Botswana, who study the Omicron variant, say that most of the new Omicron cases have mild symptoms and lower chances to end up in hospital, the World Health Organization believes that Omicron carries the highest number of mutations so far, estimated to be somewhere between 26 to 32.
Many countries around the world acted almost instantly closing their borders for foreigners and prompting additional pandemic measures for their residents who traveled abroad. The number of countries joining this list is growing since two weeks ago, when WHO declared Omicron a variant of concern.
The concerns are real and many now question the efficiency of the current vaccines against the new strain. One of those who is also very concerned if the current vaccines will actually work and provide the much-needed immunity to those fully vaccinated, is the CEO of Moderna himself.
In a recent interview with Financial Times, Moderna’s CEO Stéphane Bancel said that he believes that the current vaccines will be much less effective in providing protection against omicron than previous strains of the virus.
“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level… we had with [the] Delta [variant],” said Bancel.
So, what’s so concerning with the Omicron variant compared to all the previous known variants of the virus? According to the experts, it’s the number of mutations. The higher number of mutations a variant has, the easier will evade immunity and increase transmissibility. With the Omicron having such high number of mutations, it will be here for a long time, at least for a year.
“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’,” he told the Financial Times.
Pfizer and Moderna are using new technology in their Covid-19 vaccines called mRna which makes it pretty easy to adjust the vaccines for new variants like the Omicron. That is not the case with the so-called ‘standard vaccine technologies’ the other vaccine providers use. However, it will take at least a few months until adjusted mRna vaccines are available for the public.
Bancel confirmed that Moderna is already working to adjust their two-dose Covid-19 vaccine for the Omicron variant and the company expects the first results in several months. Bancel added that it could be risky to shift his company’s production focus to an omicron-specific vaccine while there are still other variants in circulation, like delta.