New variant: is there an omicron vaccine coming?


Status: 11/29/2021 1:17 p.m.

It is still unclear how well vaccines against the Omikron variant work. How long could it take to realign the vaccines? And why is there still no adapted vaccine for the Delta variant?

Do the existing vaccines also work against Omikron?

We are currently checking how well the existing vaccine works against the new Omikron variant. Results are expected in about two weeks – around December 10th. BioNTech / Pfizer says it is already investigating in the laboratory how well the already approved vaccine protects against Omikron.

According to the Association of Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (vfA), other vaccine manufacturers are testing how well their vaccines also protect against Omikron. Including Moderna, AstraZeneca and Janssen. Moderna and Novavax say they have already started developing a vaccine specially adapted to Omikron at the same time. Because while the vaccinations with the approved Covid-19 vaccines of the first generation worked against the known variants so far, experts now fear that Omikron may be able to overcome the defensive wall. At least the new variant has mutations in several crucial places.

How quickly can a customized vaccine be developed?

Over the past few months, BioNTech, Moderna and AstraZeneca have been practicing in the laboratory how to adapt their vaccines to variants such as Beta and Delta. BioNTech, for example, has made an adjustment to the beta variant in the vaccine and is therefore in the testing phase II / III. Now this variant no longer plays a major role in the global infection process, but the main goal was to work with the regulatory authorities to develop a process that would enable such adaptations to be carried out quickly in an emergency. The emergency occurs when a variant emerges that can actually completely escape the immune response triggered by vaccinations.

A BioNTech spokesman has now assured that if necessary, the vaccine could be adapted against the Omikron variant within six weeks and the first batches could be delivered within 100 days. The two companies BioNTech / Pfizer had already announced in June that they would be able to adapt their vaccine to a so-called escape variant within 100 days and bring it onto the market.

Why wasn’t a customized vaccine developed against Delta?

There are vaccines being developed against Delta. However, they are still in clinical testing. However, none of the major vaccine manufacturers such as BioNTech / Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca are there. However, the three pharmaceutical companies have tested in the laboratory how their vaccines behave against the Delta variant. BioNTech, for example, saw no need to bring out its own vaccine for Delta, since Comirnaty – the original vaccine – is still very effective against this variant.

How soon can a customized vaccine be approved?

The mRNA in the vaccines from BioNTech and Moderna or the adaptation of the vector viruses at AstraZeneca can be changed in the laboratory in a few weeks. At the moment, however, there are regulations that require months of clinical studies to be carried out on the market. It is also difficult to examine the effectiveness of the adapted vaccines in the population. Because if many people have already been vaccinated or have recovered, it will be time-consuming to recruit large numbers of participants for the studies.

It is therefore possible that laboratory values ​​in particular are used to evaluate the adapted vaccines. Actually, a shorter and simpler approval procedure should be introduced here in order to make an adjustment possible quickly and inexpensively, similar to the flu vaccines. If it turns out that the existing vaccines actually have no or only very little effect against Omikron, this process may be accelerated.

Can the new variant be verified using the current procedures?

The Society for Virology and Immunology writes about this in a Ad hoc opinion: According to the current state of knowledge, the common PCR methods for the detection of Sars-CoV-2 can also detect the omicron variant. Rapid antigen tests should also be suitable. How extensively this applies is currently still being checked

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