Pfizer said it will be able to manufacture and distribute an updated version of its COVID-19 vaccine within 100 days if the new variant Omicron is found to be resistant to its current vaccine.
Scientists first detected the new variant in South Africa. It has since spread to several other countries, including Israel and Belgium, prompting a spate of travel restrictions across Europe, Asia, and North America, Insider’s Aria Bendix reported. A health official said on Saturday that two cases of the variant have been detected in the UK.
The variant itself has multiple mutations that might make it easier for it to evade antibodies that developed in the body after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. The mutations might also cause the variant to spread easily — even among vaccinated people.
The World Health Organization has labeled Omicron a “variant of concern,” a distinction given to the most threatening coronavirus variants. Delta, the variant that surged all throughout the summer in the US, was the last one to receive the label.
It’s not clear yet whether existing COVID-19 vaccines will protect against the variant. But vaccine manufacturers like Pfizer are already considering their options.
“Pfizer and BioNTech have taken actions months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant,” the company said in a statement.
Pfizer expects to know within two weeks whether the variant is resistant to its current vaccine, a company spokesperson told Reuters.
“We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest. These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally,” the spokesperson said.
Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are also preparing to respond to the Omicron’s possible threat.
Moderna on Friday said it plans to test a variant-specific booster in the event that its current vaccine is found to be ineffective against the Omicron.
“From the beginning, we have said that as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves. The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant,” said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in a press release.
Johnson & Johnson is also testing the effectiveness of its vaccine against the Omicron variant.
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