Moderna is now developing a reformulated vaccine aimed at countering the recently discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The company's chief medical officer, Paul Burton, said Sunday that the new vaccine should become available early next year.
The announcement comes as experts are still divided on whether or not current vaccines will be effective against the new variant. Some experts claimed that new formulations would likely not be needed, while others argue that new vaccines may be needed to fight against the extremely contagious new variant.
Burton said that they should know the efficacy of their current vaccines against the new variant in the coming weeks. He added that if it proves to be ineffective, they should be able to develop new types of vaccines relatively quickly.
"We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks, but the remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, Moderna platform is that we can move very fast," Burton said.
Burton said that if they need to make a reformulated vaccine, Moderna should be able to develop it within a few months.
The World Health Organization recently designated Omicron as a "variant of concern," indicating it is more infectious, virulent, or adept at evading public health interventions, vaccinations, and therapies.
The spike protein, which permits the virus to enter the host, has 30 mutations in this version. Many of these alterations, according to officials, might lead to greater antibody resistance and transmissibility, limiting the effectiveness of existing COVID-19 vaccines.
As the omicron variant continues to spread around the world rapidly, governments have rushed to stifle travel from southern Africa. Fears that it will worsen a winter infection rise in the northern hemisphere and jeopardize the global economic recovery prompted a wave of risk aversion throughout global markets on Friday, which persisted into the Middle East's first trading day of the week on Sunday.
Moderna said it has already assigned "hundreds" of its researchers and scientists to study the new variant. The company said that its current vaccines could still be effective in providing some protection when compared to those who haven't received a shot. Burton said that unvaccinated people should immediately get a shot to protect them from the new variant.
"If people are on the fence, and you haven't been vaccinated, get vaccinated. This is a dangerous-looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to fight it," Burton said.