A new COVID-19 vaccine made specifically to combat the South African Omicron variant is in the works at two leading vaccine manufacturers.
BioNTech, a German company that has partnered with Pfizer to distribute its vaccine, announced Monday morning it had begun work on a vaccine tailored to combat the new variant.
Johnson & Johnson (J&J), which produces the lone one-shot vaccine available in the U.S., also announced Monday it was working on a vaccine to combat the new strain.
Many experts fear that the variant detected over the Thanksgiving holiday can evade vaccine protection because of the many mutations it has on its spike protein.
BioNTech, which partnered with Pfizer for its Covid vaccine (pictured), expects to know more about the Omicron variant in the next two weeks. The company announced Monday it is working on a Omicron-specific jab
Johnson & Johnson produces the only one-shot COVID-19 vaccine available in the U.S. (pictured). The company announced Monday it is working on a jab tailored to the Omicron variant
‘The first steps of developing a potential new vaccine overlap with the research necessary in order to evaluate whether a new shot will be needed,’ BioNTech said in a statement.
The company announced Friday that it would likely know more about the variant, and whether it can evade its vaccine, within the next two weeks.
Omicron erupted last week after first being detected in South Africa.
It is believed the have originated in Botswana, before spreading across the African continent and Europe.
Many European countries like Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, the UK and Portugal have sequenced cases of the variant over the past few days.
Worldwide, around 200 cases of the variant have been confirmed, and there are over 1,300 probable cases as of Monday morning.
Unlike the Delta variant and other strains of the virus, Omicron has over 30 mutations on its spike protein – and more than 50 mutations total.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine targets the spike protein, making the strain’s mutations potentially vaccine-evasive.
As of Monday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the vaccine has been adminsitered 264 million times in America to fully vaccinate 108 million people.
The jab is also the most commonly used around the world, leaving hundreds of millions of more people vulnerable if Omicron can get around the vaccine.
The J&J vaccine has been used to fully vaccinate 15 million Americans, and its one-dose nature has made it popular in some developing countries.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine (yellow) has been used to fully vaccinated over 108 million Americans, according to CDC data. The J&J vaccine (blue) has immunized 15 million
On Monday morning, it announced it was working on an Omicron specific Covid vaccine as it tests whether its current shot is effective against the new strain.
‘We remain confident in the robust humoral and cell-mediated immune responses elicited by the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine demonstrated by the durability and breadth of protection against variants to date in clinical studies,’ said Dr Mathai Mamme, head of research and development at J&J, in a statement.
‘We will not be complacent. Building on our long-term collaboration with scientists on the ground in South Africa and the ongoing real world effectiveness studies being conducted with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, we will work together to generate new data on Omicron.
‘In parallel, we have begun work to design and develop a new vaccine against Omicron and will rapidly progress it into clinical studies if needed.’
Moderna, producer of the third vaccine available in the United States, also said it is looking into potentially updating its current vaccine to combat the new strain.
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