Moderna CEO says vaccines likely less effective against omicron

The CEO of pharmaceutical company Moderna said Monday that current COVID-19 vaccines are not likely to be effective against the omicron variant of the novel coronavirus.

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“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level ... we had with Delta,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview.

“I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to ... are like ‘this is not going to be good.’”

According to Bancel, the large number of mutations that omicron has makes it difficult for the current vaccines to be as effective as it has been against the original COVID-19 virus and the delta variant.

Omicron already appears to be “much more infectious” than the delta variant, according to Bancel. It will become the most dominant strain in southern Africa in a matter of weeks, he said.

“It took four months for Delta variant to overtake Beta variant. Omicron is overtaking Delta in South Africa in a few weeks,” Bancel said.

“We believe this virus is highly contagious. We need to get more data to confirm this but it seems to be much more infectious than Delta, which is problematic.”

While some have criticized the move by countries around the world to ban travel to and from southern African countries, Bancel says he thinks the action could “slow down the progress of the virus while we figure out the efficacy of the vaccine.”

“I think those actions can save a lot of lives down the road,” Bancel added.

As for when a vaccine could be ready, Bancel estimated it could take 60 to 90 days for an omicron-specific vaccine to be fine-tuned and get approval by the Food and Drug Administration.

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