Just when we thought we’d turned a corner on the pandemic, a new COVID-19 variant is here to potentially ruin the holiday travel season.
The recent discovery of the Omicron variant has many countries preparing for the worst by closing borders again. Vaccine makers are also trying to figure out if they’ll need to come up with new defences against this heavily mutated strain.
They’re all worried by early reports about the variant, which shows signs of being able to overcome current vaccines.
“Early indications show this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it,” Sajid Javid, the U.K.’s health secretary, told British lawmakers last week.
Studies are underway to determine the transmissibility and severity of Omicron, as well as its resistance to vaccines, according to the WHO.
On Friday, Moderna said that the mutations described in Omicron represent a “significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”
Moderna is not only rapidly testing the effectiveness of its current vaccine against the Omicron variant, but it’s also testing adaptations to the vaccine that can be more effective against the new variant.
The company says it’s already studying two booster candidates that could be more effective against the new variant.
“If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities,” Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Burton, told BBC.
Similarly, a joint statement by Pfizer and BioNTech said that the companies expect to have a vaccine adapted for the Omicron variant ready to be shipped in about 100 days, according to Reuters.
“We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations on variant B.1.1.529,” said the statement.
Johnson & Johnson also says it’s studying how well its vaccine works against the new Omicron variant.
Pfizer and BioNTech expect to have more concrete study results about the variant in about two weeks.