Moderna is working on a booster vaccine that will target the omicron variant of Covid this fall as countries around the world prepare to distribute annual vaccines against the virus.
“We are discussing with public health leaders around the world what we believe is the best strategy for a potential launch vehicle for fall 2022. We believe it will contain an omicron, ”CEO Stefan Bansel told CNBC’s Squawk Box on Monday.
Bansel said the omicron-specific booster will soon begin clinical trials, and Moderna is discussing whether vaccines should contain any other ingredients to fight the virus.
“We need to be careful to try to stay ahead of the virus, not lag behind,” he said.
Moderna has signed $ 18.5 billion in advance purchase agreements with the UK, South Korea and Switzerland, which recently ordered injections this fall. Bansel said the company could ship between 2 billion and 3 billion booster doses this year.
“Discussions are held daily. We want to be ready to release the best possible product by Fall ’22, ”Bansel said.
Real-world data from the United Kingdom showed that boosters are up to 75% effective in protecting against symptomatic omicron infection, according to a recent study by the UK Health Safety Agency.
According to the study, the original two-dose vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer, on the other hand, are only 10% effective at preventing symptomatic infection 20 weeks after the second dose. However, the initial two doses still provide good protection against severe illness.
The world is currently suffering from an unprecedented wave of infection due to omicron, which has dozens of mutations that allow it to escape the immune defenses caused by the original vaccinations. The World Health Organization said the omicron is spreading faster than any previous variant of the virus.
WHO has set a goal to vaccinate 70% of the population of each country by the middle of this year. The global health authority is critical of wealthy countries with widespread booster campaigns, urging world leaders to focus on getting as many people around the world as possible, especially in low-income countries, to get their first vaccinations.
Bansel said vaccine supplies have been limited for much of 2021, but that is no longer the case. The main problem now is the distribution or transmission of these images to people. He said Moderna had 50 to 100 million doses waiting to be shipped to low-income countries any day in November.
“There have been many challenges with the distribution and deployment of these vaccines,” Bansel said.
Moderna’s CEO said the African Union has decided to ditch the 60 million doses the company has reserved for the continent for the second quarter.
“The reason for this is COVAX orders, donations from Europe, donations from China, donations from the US government. They have much more vaccine than they need to reach the 70% vaccination rate in these countries, ”Bansel. said.
COVAX is an international initiative led by WHO and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovation to accelerate the production and development of Covid vaccines and ensure equitable access for countries around the world.