Washington, Nov 27, 2021 (Lusa) – Moderna today announced its intention to develop a booster dose of a vaccine specific for the new Omicron variant of covid-19, detected in South Africa and considered “of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).
“Moderna will rapidly develop a candidate vaccine for a booster dose specific to the Omicron variant,” the US pharmaceutical company said in a statement.
The announcement is part of a strategy to work on specific booster doses for variants of concern, according to Moderna.
“In 2020-2021, it has already included booster doses for Delta and Beta variants,” the drugmaker advanced, saying it has “repeatedly demonstrated its ability to mobilize new candidates into the clinical trial phase in 60-90 days.”
Moderna acknowledged that “the Omicron mutations are of concern” and has been moving “for several days as quickly as possible to execute” the “strategy to combat this variant.”
Also today, Pfizer and BioNTech released a statement, in which they explain that their labs are already analyzing the variant to determine if their vaccine (one of the most widely used in the States and Europe) will need some sort of “adjustment.”
Johnson & Johnson, which markets its vaccine in Europe under the Janssen name, said it is already testing the effectiveness of its product “against the new, rapidly spreading variant that has been identified in South Africa.”
Also, the US-based Novavax and the UK-based AstraZeneca said they are analyzing the effect of their vaccines against the new variant.
In parallel, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) today considered it “premature” to predict whether it will be necessary to adapt vaccines against covid-19 “with a different composition” to cope with the new variant, about which data are still “insufficient.”
“If it were demonstrated that a new mutant variant escapes immunity and spreads rapidly in places where Delta [now] predominates, it would be relevant to initiate activities related to vaccine updates,” the EMA admitted.
The World Health Organization (WHO) today classified as “of concern” the new variant B.1.1.529 of the coronavirus that causes covid-19, first detected in South Africa, and designated it by the name Omicron.
The new variant was reported to the WHO by South Africa on Wednesday, and the WHO’s expert advisory group on monitoring the evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus met today to evaluate B.1.1.529 and proposed the classification.
According to the WHO, the Omicron variant has “a large number of mutations, some of which are worrisome.” Preliminary data suggest “an increased risk of reinfection” with this strain compared to other variants of concern, the UN agency said in a statement.
The note states that recently the infections “increased sharply” in South Africa, coinciding with the detection of variant B.1.1.529 and that the number of cases associated with this strain “appears to be increasing in almost all provinces of the country.
According to the WHO, the first confirmed case originated from a sample collected on November 9.
The variant, which has already “migrated” to Belgium, Israel, Hong Kong (China Administrative Region), and Botswana, can be detected in PCR tests (of higher sensitivity).
By definition, variants of concern are linked to increased transmissibility or virulence or to decreased effectiveness of social and public health measures, diagnostics, vaccines, or treatments.
The WHO advises people to maintain protective measures such as wearing masks, hand hygiene, physical distance, and ventilation from enclosed spaces, as well as avoiding crowds and getting vaccinated.
Countries should improve surveillance and genetic sequencing efforts of the virus to better understand the circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2 and report to WHO initial cases of infections with strains of concern.