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Covid vaccines in development against new Omicron variant – when can we expect them?


The large number of mutations present on the Omicron coronavirus strain have raised alarm bells in the scientific community. Changes to the binding site for antibodies mean that the resistance provided by previous infections and existing vaccines may not protect against Omicron. Vaccine manufacturers are currently racing to analyse the new virus and determine whether they need to develop and manufacture a new series of vaccines. BioNTech has declared they should be able to manufacture and distribute a modified version of the Pfizer vaccine within 100 days.

BioNTech explains that mRNA vaccines allow for a standardised production pipeline that is able to produce an experimental batch within the first week.

The active component of the vaccine, the mRNA, can be substituted with the mRNA sequence for the altered virus allowing for an updated vaccine.

The new vaccine will still need to be tested, followed by production and distribution of the updated vaccine.

The mRNA vaccine production process greatly reduces the timescale of the overall process of vaccine rollout.

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Moderna has also rallied it’s research teams to immediately investigate the new virus.

Scientists at the pharmaceutical company were preparing to analyse the virus on November 25th, the day before the B.1.1.529 strain was classified a variant of concern by the WHO.

Paul Burton, Chief Medical Officer of Moderna told the BBC: “We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks.

“If we have to make a brand new vaccine, that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s available in large quantities.”


Johnson and Johnson have also moved to verify the effectiveness of their vaccine against the Omicron variant.

In a statement to CNN they said: “We are closely monitoring newly emerging COVID-19 strains with variants in the spike protein and we are already testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new and rapidly spreading variant first detected in Southern Africa.”

J&J’s Janssen vaccine utilises a recombinant virus (a virus unrelated to the Coronavirus that teaches your immune system how to detect and combat Covid infections) as its active ingredient, which will present greater difficulty if it needs to be updated with new spike proteins.

The Janssen vaccine saw widespread use in South Africa, making up five million of the 16 million vaccinated people.

Other potential avenues for controlling the new variant are under investigation by vaccine researchers.

Moderna announced they are evaluating a higher dosage of the booster vaccine could increase people’s protection.

They are also studying booster shots that are specifically designed in anticipation of new variants containing a mutation profile like Omicron’s.

Until a full understanding is available on the ability of Omicron to evade vaccination, health authorities are advising that people take appropriate measures to minimise spread of the virus.

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