The head of US vaccine manufacturer Moderna shared with the Financial Times that existing COVID-19 jabs will struggle against the new COVID variant called Omicron and it will take months to develop a new shot that is more effective.

Stephane Bancel during an interview published on Tuesday said that data will be available regarding the effectiveness of current vaccines in the next two weeks but scientists are not optimistic.

He said, “All the scientists I’ve talked to … are like ‘this is not going to be good”.

Bancel’s warning comes as G7 health ministers hold emergency talks regarding the new variant, which is spreading across the globe and prompting nations to close their borders again or impose travel restrictions.

The World Health Organisation has described the risk from Omicron as “very high”.

Bancel added that researchers were concerned due to 32 of 50 mutations found in the Omicron variant being on the spike protein, a part of the virus that vaccines use to strengthen the immune system against Covid.

He noted that there will be a “material drop” in the effectiveness of current jabs against Omicron.

Moderna has announced that it is working on an Omicron-specific vaccine, as is US drugmaker Pfizer.

Chief executive Bancel shared that his company could deliver between two billion and three billion doses in 2022 but it would be risky to move all production to an Omicron-specific shot while other strains of the virus are still in circulation.

His alarming tone is in contrast with efforts by politicians to project calm regarding Omicron.

US president Joe Biden said on Monday that the strain was “not a cause for panic”.

Markets Plummet

Equities and oil dropped again on Tuesday following the warning from the head of Moderna against the current coronavirus vaccines might be less effective at fighting off the Omicron variant, triggering fears that countries could be driven back into economically damaging lockdowns.

Stephane Bancel’s remarks sent shivers through stock markets again, as he commented that the high amount of mutations on Omicron and its rapid spread in South Africa indicated the present jabs would require tweaking.

The Moderna CEO said, “There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta”.

Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok and Jakarta all lost over one percent while Seoul dipped more than two percent.

London, Paris and Frankfurt opened in the red and futures in New York were also sharply lower.

The selling also spread to oil markets where both main contracts plunged more than three percent, after slowly recovering from Friday’s collapse of more than 10 percent as demand fears came flooding back.

Tourism-linked firms were among the worst hit with Cathay Pacific losing more than four percent in Hong Kong, having already been impacted by new restrictions on travel to the city, and Singapore Airlines off more than one percent.

“Information on the Omicron variant is sketchy, how drastic its symptoms will be and how easily it can spread is also unknown, as is the effectiveness of current vaccines,” said Kelvin Wong at CMC Markets.

“I expect more downside risk for the next couple of weeks unless there’s more clarity on the Omicron strain.”

Uncertainty

Bancel’s remarks have come following announcements from major firms saying that they are working on a jab targeting the new strain.

Pfizer chief Albert Bourla said that testing could show existing shots “protect less”, which would mean “that we need to create a new vaccine” however, he added that he did not think the “result will be the vaccines don’t protect”.

A lot of uncertainty remains among traders, and experts who are of the opinion that it would take weeks before the full effects of the variant are known. The World Health Organization warned it poses a “very high” risk globally.

The story was filed by the News Desk.
The Desk can be reached at info@thecorrespondent.com.pk.

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