As concerns about the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus continue to grow, the number of questions is also increasing. A major unknown for scientists, public health experts and those vaccinated is the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines against the new strain. Not as good as we might have hoped, in the opinion of the top executive of vaccine maker Moderna.
« There are no people, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level… that we had with delta, ”said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in an interview with The Financial Times published early Tuesday morning. As experts collect data on the effectiveness of vaccines against infections and serious illnesses caused by the omicron variant, Bancel predicts a substantial drop. “I think it’s going to be a big drop. I don’t know how much because we have to wait for the data, ”he said. “But all the scientists I’ve talked to… are like, ‘This isn’t going to be good. « »
Bancel cited concerns scientists have raised about the omicron variant, which was first identified by South African scientists last week and has since been found in regions such as Australia, Canada. and several European countries. Namely, its high transmissibility (based on the speed at which it spread in South Africa) and the number of mutations on the spike protein. The spike protein is the part of the virus that helps it bind to human cells – and it is the primary target that antibodies (produced from vaccination or infection) recognize and against defend, as SELF explained. The New York Times reports that there are around 50 mutations in this strain of SARS-CoV-2, including at least 30 on the virus spike protein. (Moderna is already working on new vaccine formulations and boosters focused on protecting against the omicron variant, Bancel said.)
Not everyone agrees with Bancel’s assessment. Some experts offer more optimistic shots or urge people to wait for actual data collection. “There is a reasonable degree of confidence in the vaccine circles that [with] at least three doses… the patient will have fairly good protection against this variant, ”said Scott Gottlieb, MD, Pfizer board member and former commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration. CNBC Monday.
Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in interviews this week that the omicron variant appears to be more transmissible and could theoretically escape the immune protection of current vaccines, as has reported SELF. However, Dr Fauci also warned that we need to wait at least a few weeks to learn more about this variant and collect actual data before we can say how well the vaccines will work.
In a White House Monday’s press briefing, President Joe Biden reiterated the need to better understand this variant while expressing cautious optimism. “It will be a few weeks before we know everything we need to know about the potency of existing vaccines against the new variant,” he said. But Biden added that his team of medical experts, including Dr Fauci, « believed that vaccines would continue to provide a degree of protection against serious illness. »
Therefore, as scientists gather more and more information about omicron, it is important to continue to deploy the best tools currently available to us. As Biden said in his remarks, « The best protection against this new variant or any of the variants available … is to get fully immunized and receive a booster. »