COVID-19: Will vaccines work against the Omicron variant? Here's what experts say

WION Web Team
New Delhi, India Published: Nov 26, 2021, 11:57 PM(IST)

A file photo of J&J single shot COVID-19 vaccine. Photograph:( AFP )

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Whether the available vaccines work on the Omicron variant is one among other unanswered questions at the moment. Here's what the experts have to say:

World economies were slowly and gradually opening borders after facing the wrath of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the past two years. But a new variant with a large number of mutations poses a bigger threat to the world. After the initial examination, the scientists have said that the new variant is the most worrying Covid variant since delta. 

The recently-discovered variant B.1.1.529, first detected in southern Africa has been termed as a 'variant of concern' by the World Health Organization (WHO). It has been renamed Omicron by WHO. 

The early evidence suggested a possible increased risk of reinfection, but scientists have made mere speculations as work is already underway to investigate the immune escape potential of the Omicron variant. WHO also said that it will take several weeks to understand it. 

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Whether the available vaccines work on the Omicron variant is one among other unanswered questions at the moment. However, it appears that it is too soon to know.

What can be considered as a good news that mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are likely adaptable against most variants. 

But the massive roadblock in the coming days will be countries where very few people have received even a single vaccine dose of vaccines. 

Moderna

The US pharmaceutical company Moderna said Friday (November 26) it will develop a booster shot against the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. It is one of three strategies the company is working to address the new threat, including a higher dose of its existing vaccine, Moderna said.

"The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant," said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.

Pfizer and BioNTech

German vaccine manufacturer BioNTech expects data from tests "in two weeks at the latest". The company said in a statement said, "Pfizer and BioNTech have taken actions months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant."

Sputnik V

Head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev said in an interview with the RT TV channel that Sputnik V jab, if necessary, can be quickly adjusted to take on a new strain of coronavirus found in South Africa. 

"We can quickly adapt the vaccine to the new variant of the coronavirus if it is required. We do believe that Sputnik V is for the moment the most effective vaccine against mutations of the coronavirus," he said. 

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Johnson & Johnson

Johnson & Johnson on Friday (November 27) said they are closely monitoring the new variant and already testing their vaccine against it.

"We are closely monitoring newly emerging COVID-19 virus strains with variations in the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein and are already testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new and rapidly spreading variant first detected in southern Africa," Johnson & Johnson said. 

AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca is also investigating the variant that was first detected in southern Africa. 

In a statement, the company said, "AstraZeneca is also already conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified, namely in Botswana and Eswatini."

What do the experts say?

As quoted by The Guardian, Prof Wendy Barclay, a virologist at Imperial College London, said, "Sometimes quantity [of antibodies] can compensate for the lack of a match. That is the only vaccine that's available to us at the moment. We need to make that work as best as we can."

Vincent Enouf, from Paris's Institut Pasteur, said, "Based on its genetics, it's something very rare and could well be concerning. We need to remain calm, continue to monitor it and not completely alarm the public."

He added, "We need to check if the antibodies produced by our current vaccines still work, and what level do they work and if they can still prevent serious cases." That requires a two-pronged approach of lab trials and looking at real-world data in affected countries. 

Virologist Etienne Decroly said on Twitter, "It is urgent to adapt RNA vaccines and vaccine boosts to the circulating variants," 

"The more this virus circulates, the more opportunities this virus has to change, the more mutations we will see," said the WHO's Maria Van Kerkhove.

 

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