Moderna CEO says it’ll take months to develop, ship coronavirus vaccine targeting omicron variant

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The CEO of Moderna on Monday said it will take months for the company to develop and ship a vaccine that targets the new COVID-19 omicron variant.

Stephane Bancel said during an interview with CNBC’s “Squad Box” that while it will take some time to develop a vaccine that is specifically meant to protect against the omicron variant, the company could have a higher, 100-microgram dose, of its booster shot ready much earlier.

“The higher dose could be done right away but it will be months before the omicron specific variant is ready to ship in massive quantities,” Bancel said.

He also noted that it will take at least two weeks to gather information to understand how much the mutations in the omicron variant have affected the efficacy of existing vaccines. Bancel did, however, say Moderna believes that the new strain is highly infectious.

Additionally, the executive said that once the company learns about the new variant and vaccine efficacy it may consider allocating higher doses of existing shots, and could request authorization for a fourth jab for elderly individuals.

“Depending on how much it dropped, we might decide on the one hand to give a higher dose of the current vaccine around the world to protect people, maybe people at very high risk, the immunocompromised, and the elderly should need a fourth dose,” Bancel told CNBC.

The World Health Organization (WHO) convened for an emergency meeting on Friday where it identified the omicron strain as a variant of concern after it was first discovered in South Africa.

National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins on Sunday said it will take weeks to discern how well existing COVID-19 vaccines protect against the omicron variant.

Former Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb did, however, say vaccine developers have “a pretty good degree of confidence” that fully vaccinated individuals who have received their booster shot are protected against the new strain.

Gottlieb sits on the board of Pfizer, which developed one of the competing COVID-19 vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S.

While there is still much to learn about the variant — especially when it comes to transmissibility, severity and vaccine efficacy — it is clear that the strain has a large number of mutations.

The omicron variant has since spread to several countries across the globe, including Italy, Germany, Scotland, Canada, Israel, Botswana and Hong Kong.

Bancel on Monday said Moderna believes the variant “is already present in most countries.

I believe most countries that have direct flights from South Africa in the last seven to 10 days already have cases in their country that they may not be aware of,” he added.

The U.S. on Monday implemented travel restrictions for individuals coming from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Biotechnology company Novavax announced on Friday that it is working on developing a vaccine that combats the omicron variant.

The company said testing and manufacturing of the jab will likely “take a few weeks.”

Tags Coronavirus coronavirus vaccine COVID-19 COVID-19 vaccine Moderna Omicron variant

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