Current COVID-19 vaccines will likely be less effective against the Omicron variant, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel predicted Tuesday.
Omicron, first identified in South Africa, has sparked travel restrictions around the world – including by the U.S. President Joe Biden called the new variant a “cause for concern, not cause for panic” during remarks on Monday, and there is still much to learn about how effective current vaccines are against Omicron as well as what the symptoms are.
“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” Bancel said during an interview with Financial Times.
Bancel also said it will take pharmaceutical companies months to develop a widely available vaccine for this new variant and suggested Omicron’s mutations indicate the current shots will need modification. (RELATED: ‘The Choice Is Yours’: In Line With CDC’s Mask Guidance, Biden Gives Americans An Ultimatum On Vaccines)
“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, according to Financial Times.
Bancel’s prediction flies in the face of at least one scientist who has pushed back on the reaction to the new variant. Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and one of the early doctors to tell authorities about a new potential variant, suggested people are too worked up about the variant and noted that current patients typically have “very, very mild symptoms.”
Biden has also tried to calm fears and said his chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci believes the vaccines will “provide a degree of protection.” The president spent a large portion of Monday’s speech pushing for fully vaccinated Americans to get the booster and for unvaccinated individuals to get the shot in light of the new variant.
If a new vaccine is needed, developing and making it widely available is not the only problem, according to Bancel. He noted that other variants remain an issue, and therefore companies like Moderna won’t be able to solely produce Omicron-focused vaccines.