4 firms rush to produce mutant-specific vaccines
NEW YORK: Four of the world's Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers -- Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Sinovac -- are now developing new generations of their respective vaccines specifically targeting the new Omicron variant.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said yesterday in New York that his company has already started working on a new version against Omicron in case the current vaccine is not effective.
Mr Bourla told CNBC that Pfizer on Friday began testing the current vaccine against Omicron, which was first reported in South Africa and has reignited fears of another global wave of Covid-19 infections.
"I don't think the result will be the vaccines don't protect," Mr Bourla said. But the testing could show that existing shots "protect less" meaning "we need to create a new vaccine", he added.
"Friday we made our first DNA template, which is the first possible inflection of the development process of a new vaccine," he noted.
Johnson & Johnson also said on Monday that it is "pursuing an Omicron-specific variant vaccine and will progress it as needed". On Friday, Moderna said it was developing a booster shot against the new variant.
Mr Bourla likened the situation to earlier in the year when Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech developed a vaccine in 95 days as concerns arose that the previous formula would not work against Delta -- even though the newer version was ultimately not used.
The current vaccine is "very effective" against Delta, the executive said, adding the companies expect to be able to produce 4 billion doses in 2022.
Yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned the Omicron variant poses a "very high" risk globally.
Mr Bourla said he was "very confident" Pfizer's new antiviral pill would work as a treatment for infections caused by mutated versions of Covid-19, including Omicron.
Among newly infected, high-risk patients treated within three days of the onset of symptoms, Pfizer's pill has been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation or death by nearly 90%, according to the company.
Chinese vaccine manufacturer Sinovac, which has supplied the most Covid-19 vaccines globally, is confident it can rapidly mass produce a new version against the Omicron variant, but only after regulatory approvals are obtained, along with evidence that an updated vaccine is necessary, according to the South China Morning Post.
"The technology and production is the same and a vaccine for research can be prepared very quickly after isolation of the strain. Production is not an issue," the company said. "But relevant studies need to be completed and new vaccines approved for use in accordance with regulatory requirements. It is too early to say whether a separate vaccine will need to be developed." afp