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Global hopes of vaccine manufacturers to overcome the omicron option

A laboratory technician in full protective suit handles a bottle containing a culture medium for the production of the virus as he studies a coronavirus vaccine at Valneva SA laboratories in Vienna, Austria.

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LONDON. As the new variant of omicron Covid spreads around the world, hopes are pinned on the ability of vaccine manufacturers to develop effective injections against this strain.

Sentiment in global markets fell sharply on Tuesday morning amid fears that the Covid-19 vaccine currently in use may be less effective against the new omicron variant. The strain was first discovered in South Africa and was designated a “worrying option” by the World Health Organization on Friday.

The sharp reversal in European and US stock futures came after Moderna CEO Stefan Bansel told the Financial Times that he expects existing vaccines to be less effective against the new option.

Bansel told CNBC on Monday that it could take months to develop and deliver a vaccine specifically targeting the omicron variant. He added that it will take at least two weeks to determine how much the mutations have affected the effectiveness of vaccines currently on the market.

The omicron variant has more than 30 mutations in a spike protein that binds to human cells. According to the WHO, some mutations are associated with higher transmission and decreased protection of antibodies.

The UN health agency reiterated on Monday that, however, there is still considerable uncertainty and uncertainty regarding this option.

First, experts do not yet know how transmitted this variant is and whether any increase in infections is due to the fact that it can escape prior immunity, or because it is more transmitted.

Second, there is uncertainty about how well vaccines protect against infection, transmission, severity of disease and death when it comes to omicron. And third, it is not known whether the variant causes more severe symptoms.

WHO said it will take weeks to understand how this option might affect diagnostics, therapy and vaccines.

100 days

Burla said Pfizer has already begun work on producing a new vaccine if needed. The company created its first DNA template on Friday, the first step in the development of a new vaccine, he said.

“We have repeatedly stated that we can get the vaccine in less than 100 days,” Burla said. He noted that the company was able to quickly create vaccines for the beta and delta variants, although they were ultimately not used because the original vaccines remained effective.

Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, which also make widely available and effective Covid-19 vaccines (although the AstraZeneca vaccine has not yet been approved in the US), also said they are researching and testing a new variant.

Rafael Bayarri Olmos, a researcher at Copenhagen University Hospital, told CNBC on Tuesday that the options “affect” how well Covid vaccines can ward off infection.

“We now have an omicron, which has 32 mutations in the spike protein, some of which have been seen before and are worrisome – they can make the virus more transmissible, they can help them escape recognition by the immune system or your defenses – so we really we expect that vaccines will not be as effective, but that does not mean that they will not work, ”he added.

“They are now one of our best tools to contain the spread of this virus.”

Omicron risks

François Ballou, director of the UCL Institute of Genetics at University College London, stressed that very little is known about how contagious and deadly this variant is compared to the delta variant.

“We can foresee what we are pretty confident about is that this option is more likely to infect and re-infect people who have been vaccinated or are immune from a previous infection,” he told CNBC Squawk Box Europe on Tuesday.

“But in terms of intrinsic transmissibility, regardless of the immune system and its virulence, we don’t know, I would say, almost nothing at this stage … We just have to wait before we can say.”

There is quiet optimism that the omicron may be a more contagious, but less dangerous version of the virus, which means it could turn into an infection more like the common cold.

Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett told the Sydney Morning Herald on Monday that “there is a possibility that we are seeing a more infectious and less dangerous version of the virus, which would be one of those steps on a happier path to living with the virus.” “she said.” We have as many signals as we can [be] Okay, since we have signals that this might cause some concern. “

Many countries are taking no risk and have announced increased Covid vaccinations, revaccinations and more restrictive measures.

On Monday, US President Joe Biden ruled out yet another travel lock and restriction, although he and several other countries have temporarily suspended travel from several countries in southern Africa.

– CNBC’s Spencer Kimball provided the coverage for this story.


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