Variant B.1.1.529, which was first detected in South Africa, appears to be spreading rapidly in different parts of the country and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations will make it more transmissible and that it will result in a immune evasion. However, lExperts have said that it is too early to know the full impact of the mutations on the efficacy of the vaccine.
“It is the most mutated version of the virus that we have seen to date. This variant carries some changes that we have previously seen in other variants, but never all together in one virus. It also has novel mutations,” said Lawrence Young, virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick School of Medicine in the UK in a statement.
The variant has about 50 mutations in total, more than 30 in the key spike protein.
“The spike protein gene [es] the protein that is the target of most vaccines. Therefore, there is concern that this variant may have a greater potential to escape previous immunity than previous variants, “said Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Center for Global Analysis of Infectious Diseases at Imperial College London in a statement.
Here’s what some of the major vaccine producers are saying regarding the new omicron variant.
Scientists at BioNTech, the German company that partnered with Pfizer to make its COVID-19 vaccine, have already started investigating the impact of a new variant in their vaccine, and they expect to have data within the next two weeks.
“We understand the concern of the experts and have immediately initiated investigations into the B.1.1.529 variant,” BioNTech said in a statement on Friday. “We expect more data from laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest.”
BioNTech said the next data would shed light on “whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that could require adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally.”
For months, the directors of Pfizer and BioNTech have said that companies can adapt their vaccine, which uses mRNA technology, in six weeks and begin shipping the first batches in 100 days, if necessary.
Vaccine maker Moderna says the new omicron variant poses a “significant potential risk” to its COVID-19 vaccine.
“The recently described omicron variant includes mutations seen in the delta variant that are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the beta and delta variants that are believed to promote immune escape. The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk for accelerating immunity. decrease in natural and vaccine-induced immunity, “Moderna said in a press release on Friday.
The company said it is working quickly to test its vaccine’s ability to neutralize the new variant and data is expected in the coming weeks.
If the current vaccine and the current booster dose of the vaccine are insufficient against the variant, a possible solution is to apply a higher dose, which Moderna said it is testing.
The company is also evaluating two multivalent reinforcement candidates to see if they provide superior omicron protection. Both candidates include some of the viral mutations present in the new variant.
Moderna is also evaluating a specific booster candidate for omicron.
“We have three lines of defense that we are advancing in parallel,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in the statement. “The mutations in the omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have moved as quickly as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant.”
Johnson & Johnson
Vaccine maker Johnson & Johnson is testing the effectiveness of its COVID-19 vaccine against the new variant of the omicron coronavirus, the company said Friday.
“We are closely monitoring new strains of the covid-19 virus with variations in the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein and are already testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new, rapidly spreading variant first detected in southern Africa, “Clare Boyle, a Johnson & Johnson spokeswoman, told CNN in a statement.
Vaccine maker AstraZeneca is seeking to understand the impact of the omicron variant and is testing its antibody combination therapy against the new variant, a company spokesman said Friday.
The spokesperson said that the platform used in the vaccine allows the company to respond quickly to new variants.
“AstraZeneca is also conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified, namely in Botswana and Eswatini, which will allow us to collect real- world data from Vaxzevria against this new variant of the virus,” they said.
Currently, the AstraZeneca vaccine is not licensed for use in the United States.
The company’s antibody treatment, AZD7442, is also being tested against the variant, and AstraZeneca says it is “hopeful that AZD7442 will remain effective as it comprises two powerful antibodies with different and complementary activities against the virus.”
In October, the company applied to the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize the emergency use of AZD7442.
With input from David McKenzie, Ghazi Balkiz, Andrew Carey, Amir Tal, and Ivana Kottasová