Moderna CEO says new Omicron vaccine could take months to develop, existing vaccine less effective

Moderna CEO

30th November 2021 – (Cambridge) Stéphane Bancel, Chief Executive Officer of Moderna, a US pharmaceutical company, said that the COVID-19 variant virus Omicron has a large number of mutations in the spike protein used to infect human cells, and the rapid spread of the variant in South Africa indicates that the current vaccine may need to be enhanced next year.

The CEO of Moderna has said that it would take months to create and deliver a vaccine targeting the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. But Stéphane Bancel told CNBC on Monday that a higher dose of the company’s booster could be available sooner.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He added: “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’.” Bancel said scientists were worried because 32 of the 50 mutations in the Omicron variant are on the spike protein, which current vaccines focus on to boost the human body’s immune system to combat Covid. According to Financial Times, he said it would be risky to shift Moderna’s entire production capacity to an Omicron-targeted jab at a time when other variants were still in circulation.

In August, Moderna announced that those who were vaccinated with two doses of its vaccine “maintained antibodies through six months, including against variants of concern such as the Delta variant”. However, studies suggested that the company’s vaccine was less effective at preventing outbreaks of Delta than earlier strains of the virus.

Stéphane Bancel predicts that existing vaccines are far less effective in dealing with variant strains and it will take several months for pharmaceutical companies to produce new vaccines against this strain on a large scale. Bancel said, “I think the (vaccine) protective effect will be substantially reduced. I just don’t know how much, because we need to wait for the data in the next weeks.” He added that it was “highly possible” that the current versions of the vaccine will not provide as much coverage against the new variant.