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Will current vaccines remain effective against Omicron? Drugmakers explain

With Omicron raising concerns about Covid vaccines' efficacy, drugmakers are stress-testing existing jabs while also racing to prepare new formulas.

India TV News Desk Edited by: India TV News Desk
New Delhi Updated on: December 02, 2021 16:52 IST
Syringes of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine are pictured at a
Image Source : AP

Syringes of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine are pictured at a vaccination site in Boulogne Billancourt, outside Paris.

Highlights

  • Covishield, Covaxin, Sputnik, Moderna, Pfizer are among major vaccines currently available in world
  • Almost all drugmakers say they are working to quickly investigate, adapt to treat new variant
  • WHO scientist says it is premature to draw any conclusion on Omicron as of now

At a time when nations all over the world are concerned about the new Covid variant Omicron, which was first identified in South Africa, another question which many have in their minds is that would the current vaccines that are currently available in the world be effective against the new variant.

Covishield, Covaxin, Sputnik V, Moderna, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson are some of the key vaccines that are being jabbed to people across the world, but are these vaccines have the capability to work against the new variant which has so far had more than 50 mutations. So, let's take a look at what vaccine makers have to say on the efficacy of existing options.  

Covishield-maker SII CEO Adar Poonawalla 

Serum Institute of India -- which is making Covishield -- CEO Adar Poonawalla while speaking on its vaccine effectiveness said that the efficacy of the Covishield vaccine against the variant will be known in the next 2-3 weeks as studies are underway at the moment.

Poonawalla said that it is not yet known whether Omicron will be more serious than previous variants. Meanwhile, Serum Institute has sought from India's drug regulator approval for Covishield as a booster dose citing adequate stock of the vaccine in the country and a demand for a booster shot due to the emergence of new coronavirus variants, official sources said.

As per reports, Poonawalla said that scientists at Oxford are engaged... a new vaccine might be developed that can come as a booster dose in the coming months.

The University of Oxford, which makes the coronavirus vaccine with AstraZeneca, in a statement, said there was "no evidence so far" that existing vaccines would not continue to provide protection against Omicron, as they have for previous variants of concern.

It added that they had the "necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated Covid-19 vaccine if it should be necessary".

Covaxin-maker Bharat Biotech on Omicron

Bharat Biotech which indigenously developed Covaxin said that it is studying whether its vaccine would work against variants of coronavirus such as Omicron.

BioNTech and Pfizer on Omicron

Pfizer vaccine will offer strong protection against any severe symptom caused by Omicron, Reuters quoted BioNTech's Chief Executive Officer.

He further said that an established vaccine will likely prevent hospitalisation. Though lab tests to analyze the efficacy are underway, if needed, BioNTech is ready to relaunch the vaccine in the next 100 days.

Moderna on Omicron

Stephane Bancel, chief executive at Moderna, said that currently available vaccines for Covid-19 could likely be less effective against the new Omicron variant. He added that it will take several months before pharma companies can manufacture variant-specific jabs at scale, The Financial Times reported.

Speaking on existing version efficacy, Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said that they can roll out a reformulated vaccine against the Omicron variant early next year.

He added that as of now it's not clear whether new formulations will be required, or if the current Covid vaccine will provide protection against new variants.

China on new variant

China said it is ready to tackle the newly detected Omicron coronavirus variant, and it is confident that the country's mainstream tests will block community transmission.

According to Xu Wenbo, from the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccines developed in China remain effective against the new mutated variant, yet to better cope it has made technological reserve preparations in vaccine development, Global Times reported.

Russia's Sputnik V on Omicron

Russia's Gamaleya Institute also believes that both Sputnik V and Sputnik Light will neutralise Omicron.

The Gamaleya Institute, based on existing protocols of immediately developing vaccine versions for variants of concern, has already begun developing the new version of Sputnik vaccine adapted to Omicron, said Kirill Dmitriev, CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund.

However, in an unlikely case such modification is needed, the new Sputnik Omicron version can be made ready for mass-scale production in 45 days, he added.

Vaccines would need to be modified, says Moderna top official

As per Moderna's Bancel, the high number of Omicron mutations on the spike protein, which the virus uses to infect human cells, and the rapid spread of the variant in South Africa, suggested that the current crop of vaccines may need to be modified next year.

Scientists worried about more mutations in Omicron

He said scientists were worried because 32 of the 50 mutations in the Omicron variant are on the spike protein, which current vaccines focus on to boost the human body's immune system to combat Covid.

Premature to draw any conclusion on Omicron as of now: WHO

As there is still a lack of reliable data on vaccine efficacy against Omicron, WHO's Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan told the FT that "we believe it's premature to draw any conclusions about the efficacy of vaccines against Omicron".

"WHO has convened all our expert groups and scientists are working on experiments to test neutralisation capacity of stored sera from recovered patients or vaccinated individuals against the new variant. This will take a few weeks."

Swaminathan said "we need to be patient", pending full "clinical effectiveness studies to truly understand if this variant is able to overcome the immunity generated by existing vaccines".

(With inputs from IANS)

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