CEOs & Scientists on Whether Existing Vaccines Will Work Against Omicron

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12/07/2021

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www.cbsnews.com

As cases of the Omicron variant continue to rise across the U.S., public health officials have one main question: Are the current COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer effective against the new variant?

For now, no one truly knows the answer. However, the CEOs of Moderna and Pfizer, as well as scientists from Johnson & Johnson, have all weighed in on the topic. Some say a new vaccine is inevitable, as Omicron can mutate too many different ways; others say they need more data to be sure. 

Here's a roundup of what top leaders from vaccine makers have said about their fight against Omicron.

Moderna 

Moderna president Dr. Stephen Hoge said there's a good chance current vaccines won't hold up as well against the Omicron variant.   

"I think that there's a real risk that we're going to see a decrease in the effectiveness of the vaccines," Hoge told ABC News on Sunday. "What I don't know is how substantial that is."

Hoge's comment mirrors what company CEO Stéphane Bancel said last week: There's "going to be a material drop" in effectiveness against Omicron, he stated.

It would take three months for Moderna to produce a vaccine specifically for Omicron, Moderna's chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Burton, said last week.

Johnson & Johnson

CEO Alex Gorsky has been relatively quiet about Omicron and how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine stacks up against the new variant.

Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for the company, said Omicron's presence shows that drugmakers must continue testing and monitoring COVID-19's mutations. J&J is currently testing its vaccine against Omicron, Mammen said. 

"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," Mammen said in a statement. 

The company hasn't revealed a timeline for producing an Omicron-specific vaccine. 

Pfizer

Pfizer has a vaccine shot it created alongside German biotech firm BioNTech, and scientists are currently testing the injection against Omicron. Pfizer is also developing an antiviral pill

CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC last week he was confident the pill would hold up to Omicron. Pfizer has said its pill — called Paxlovid — halts the virus from spreading in a person's body by deploying a new compound that can bind to an enzyme of the virus, blocking it from replicating inside infected cells.

Pfizer said last week it could produce an Omicron-tailored vaccine in "approximately 100 days," subject to regulatory approval.

AstraZeneca

CEO Pascal Soriot hasn't said much publicly about the new variant or if the company will need to develop a new vaccine against it. 

The British drug manufacturer partnered with Oxford University to create its current vaccination, which is being used widely across the U.K. but is not approved for use in the U.S. 

Existing coronavirus vaccinations, no matter who produced them, likely won't perform well against Omicron, said Oxford professor Sarah Gilbert, who helped create AstraZeneca's current jab. 

"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant," she told the BBC on Monday.

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