BioNTech CEO: I think we will Need an Adapted Vaccine against COVID-19 because of Omicron
German biotech company BioNTech should be able to adapt its coronavirus vaccine relatively quickly in response to the Omicron variant, said its CEO Ugur Shahin, adding that despite the mutations, the vaccines must continue to protect people against serious illness.
BioNTech and Pfizer Inc. together created one of the first vaccines against Covid-19, with more than 2 billion doses already available to humans worldwide.
However, there are concerns that vaccines may not work as well against the Omicron variant, which appeared last month.
"This option may be able to infect vaccinated people. However, we expect that infected people who have been vaccinated can still be protected against serious illness," Shahin said in an interview with Friday's “Reuters Next” conference.
The chief executive of BioNTech, whose work until the advent of the Covid-19 coronavirus in 2020 focused on cancer, said the new variant came earlier than expected.
"This highly mutant coronavirus came earlier than I expected. I was expecting it sometime next year, but it's already with us."
Ugur Shahin also said that mutations in the virus mean that annual vaccinations are more likely to become the norm, as is the case with seasonal flu vaccines, and that a new vaccine against Covid-19 will be needed, although it is still it is not clear when.
"I believe in principle at some point that we will need a new vaccine against this new option. The question is how urgently such a vaccine should be available," Shahin said.
Much remains unknown about the Omicron variant, which was first discovered in South Africa last month and has already been detected in at least two dozen more countries, just as parts of Europe are battling a new wave of Delta infections.
"We expect that this option may be able to infect vaccinated people, and this variant will most likely be able to infect people with high exposure. This is one of the things that is becoming clearer now. However, it is unclear whether this variant could lead to more severe disease," Sahin said.
Asked how contagious the Omicron variant could be, Ozlem Tureci, BioNTech's chief medical officer and co-founder of the company, said:
"This is something we need to learn over time and keep in mind over time a daily, weekly horizon, and experts are watching this closely."
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