Moderna said a new vaccine to tackle the Omicron COVID-19 variant could be ready by early 2022 if it is needed.
Moderna’s chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Burton, said in an interview on BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that if a new vaccine is necessary, “I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to available in large quantities.”
“The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, Moderna platform is we can move very fast,” he said, noting that the company started work on an Omicron vaccine on Thursday, during the U.S.’s Thanksgiving holiday.
Burton said Moderna should know whether the current COVID-19 vaccine can provide protection against Omicron in the “next couple weeks,” but said it is his suspicion that Omicron may escape that protection given the 30 mutations of the variant — nine of which are known to be “associated with immune escape.”
“You bring those together I think this is a very concerning virus.”
Global News reached out to Moderna for a more specific timeline on the potential vaccine but did not hear back at the time of publication.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has named Omicron a “variant of concern,” stating it is potentially more contagious than other variants, though it is not yet known if it causes more or less severe COVID-19.
Countries have begun to enact travel restrictions to limit the variant’s spread, including Canada, which has placed a travel ban on several south African countries.
Omicron must be assessed for its impact on older populations and those with pre-existing conditions, said Burton, adding that until then “we really will not get a handle on exactly how severe the disease could be.”
Nevertheless, Burton said he has cause to be hopeful.
“We have learnt a lot about this virus in general,” he said. “We’ve learnt so much about how to deal with COVID as well through simple measures and obviously through vaccines.”
— with files from Reuters