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Moderna CEO predicts existing COVID vaccines less effective against Omicron

Stephane Bancel says there’s ‘no world’ in which protection will prove to be the same against new strain, says he expects a ‘material drop’

Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, speaks to the media after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker toured the Moderna facility, on May 12, 2021, in Norwood, Massachusetts. (Nancy Lane/The Boston Herald via AP, Pool)
Stephane Bancel, CEO of Moderna, speaks to the media after Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker toured the Moderna facility, on May 12, 2021, in Norwood, Massachusetts. (Nancy Lane/The Boston Herald via AP, Pool)

The head of drugmaker Moderna said that existing COVID-19 vaccines, in all likelihood, would prove to be less effective against the new Omicron variant causing worldwide concern.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level… we had with Delta,” Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview published Tuesday.

“I think it’s going to be a material drop,” Bancel cautioned. “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.

On Monday, the World Health Organization warned that the new COVID-19 Omicron variant poses a “very high” risk globally.

First reported in South Africa, it has reignited fears of a global wave of COVID-19 infections.

Bancel added that owing to the many mutations on Omicron’s spike protein, the current vaccines will have to be adapted for the strain, a process he has previously said could take months.

On Monday, the CEO of fellow vaccine-maker Pfizer said his firm had already started working on a version of its COVID-19 vaccine specifically targeting Omicron in case the current inoculation is not effective against the new strain.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks during a ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece, on October 12, 2021. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos, File)

“I don’t think the result will be the vaccines don’t protect,” Albert Bourla told CNBC. But the testing could show that existing shots “protect less,” which means “that we need to create a new vaccine,” Bourla said.

Bourla said he was also “very confident” that Pfizer’s recently unveiled antiviral pill would work as a treatment for infections caused by the mutations, including Omicron.

Pfizer asked US regulators two weeks ago to authorize its experimental pill for COVID-19, Paxlovid, setting the stage for a likely launch this winter of a promising treatment that can be taken at home.

Among newly infected high-risk patients treated within three days of the onset of symptoms, Pfizer’s pill has been shown to cut hospitalization or death by nearly 90 percent. The US Food and Drug Administration is also reviewing a competing pill from Merck and several smaller drugmakers are also expected to seek authorization for their own antiviral pills in the coming months.

AFP contributed to this report.

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