'Material drop': Vaccine boss issues bleak Omicron warning

None of the three vaccines in use across Australia will be as effective against the Omicron Covid variant compared to previous strains, one of the manufacturers' bosses fears.

Stephane Bancel, the CEO of US vaccine manufacturer Moderna, told the Financial Times the general consensus from scientists he'd been in discussion with is that "it's not going to be good".

Mr Bancel predicted a "material drop" in vaccine efficacy and warned it would take months for manufacturers to alter their jabs to combat the Omicron variant.

"There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level," he said.

Men and women in masks queue for a vaccine in Sydney.
Australia faces an anxious wait as to whether its current jabs will prove effective against the Omicron variant. Source: Getty

Mr Bancel said researchers were concerned because 32 of 50 mutations found in the Omicron variant were on the spike protein, a part of the virus that vaccines use to bolster the immune system against Covid.

Pfizer has given a slightly shorter timeline for formulating a new jab if necessary, with spokesperson Jerica Pitts saying it would take up to six weeks.

Pfizer made similar changes for Beta and Delta that ultimately proved unnecessary, and they’ve already crafted their first DNA template for Omicron, the initial step in the development process.

“I don’t think that the result will be the vaccines don’t protect,” Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC.

“I think the result could be, which we don’t know yet, the vaccines protect less.”

Vaccine bosses fear current vaccines will not be as effective against the Omicron variant. Source: Getty
Vaccine bosses fear current vaccines will not be as effective against the Omicron variant. Source: Getty

Moderna president Stephen Hoge told The Times they expect results from tests on how effective their current vaccine is in two weeks.

Mr Bancel's warning comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for calm and asked for states and territories to stick to the national plan.

Mr Morrison has so far paused the arrival of temporary visa holders and students by two weeks while pausing a travel bubble with South Korea and Japan. He doesn't want any more lockdowns during the pandemic.

The variant has been detected in multiple countries across the world, prompting some to close their borders once again or impose fresh travel restrictions.

The World Health Organization has called the risk from Omicron "very high".

Mr Bancel said his company could deliver between two billion and three billion doses in 2022 but it would be dangerous to shift all production to an Omicron-specific shot with other strains of the virus still in circulation.

There are six Omicron cases detected in Australia so far.

With AFP

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