Frankfurt: BioNTech should be able to adapt its coronavirus vaccine relatively quickly in response to the Omicron variant. The next few weeks will show how urgently an upgrade is needed BioNtech CEO Ugur Sahin was quoted as saying by Reuters, Friday. Ugur Sahin said people should continue to seek the established shot, developed with Pfizer, as it very likely continues to protect against severe disease.
“I believe in principle at a certain timepoint we will need a new vaccine against this new variant. The question is how urgent it needs to be available,” Sahin said. He reiterated that a product relaunch could be achieved within about 100 days and said a redesign is already under way. But any confirmation of the existing shot’s protection against severe disease could buy developers time for a more measured approach. If third booster shots still prevent disease at an 85-90 per cent ‘we would have more time to adapt a vaccine’, Sahin pointed out.
Germany’s BioNTech and Pfizer together produced one of the first vaccines against Covid-19. Already over two billion doses have been already given to protect people around the world.
There are however, concerns that the vaccines might not work as well against the Omicron variant which emerged last month. Sahin reaffirmed his view that the new variant might infect vaccinated people but would likely prevent the need for hospital care.
“We expect that this new variant will evolve as an antibody escape variant. That means this variant might be able to infect vaccinated,” Sahin stated. “We anticipate that infected people who have been vaccinated will still be protected against severe disease,” Sahin added.
Sahin also said that he had been expecting a mutant virus. “This highly mutant virus came earlier than I had expected. I had expected sometime next year and it’s already with us,” Sahin stated. He also stated that mutations in the virus meant it was more likely that annual vaccinations would be the norm, as is the case with seasonal flu.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries. It emerged just as parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of Delta variant infections.