Moderna CEO concerned about efficacy of current vaccines for Omicron: ‘Not going to be good’

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The latest Covid-19 strain to plague the world, B.1.1.529, better known as the “Omicron” variant, has caused plenty of concern, and some of that worry stems from pharmaceutical company Moderna.

Omicron hasn’t been around long enough for scientists to fully and accurately measure its effects and level of danger posed, but Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel isn’t feeling very optimistic. Bancel bluntly admitted to Financial Times in an interview that current vaccines may not be adequate against the Omicron variant, saying there would be a “material drop” in the vaccine’s efficacy, possibly requiring Moderna and other pharmaceutical companies to go back to the drawing board for synthesizing another vaccine.

While Bancel admitted that more time and research is needed to really understand Omicron’s impact and severity, he nevertheless expressed his concerns and that of his research staff that so far, results are not promising.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level. 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 said.

As Omicron has started making the rounds in the world, people have reacted largely in the same way they have for the last two years of Covid-19. Some nations that were most inclined towards lockdowns and strict restrictions have responded with more of the same to Omicron, and many nations, including the United States, have started imposing travel restrictions from southern Africa and elsewhere where Omicron has been detected.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated Omicron as a “virus of concern” (a step they did not take with the “Delta” variant), while simultaneously condemning travel restrictions on southern Africa, arguing that more data needed to be gathered to fully measure Omicron’s potential impact.

Some officials, notably in South Africa, considered near the epicenter of the Omicron outbreak, have said that the danger is overstated and that Omicron isn’t exactly filling mass graves faster than they can be dug. One doctor, in particular, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, said that the symptoms of Omicron are “extremely mild” and give no reason for panic.

Omicron appears to function somewhat differently from previous strains of Covid-19, such as the Delta variant, due to its vast mutation potential, above and beyond the already highly changeable base Covid virus. Omicron is said to have 32 mutations in its spike protein alone, which greatly increases its potential to mutate to a form that is able to overcome both existing vaccines as well as the human body’s natural immune system. This high number of mutations in its base proteins does not automatically make it a lethal bioweapon, but they do increase its potential to cause harm.

Probably the most accurate thing that anyone has said, however, is that more information is needed before an informed assessment can be made.

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