Omicron-Specific Vaccine Available in Early 2022

Pfizer and Moderna are said to be working on Omicron-targeted vaccines with Pfizer racing ahead to make them available by March 2022
By Corina Tan
Omicron Vaccine

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Even as we begin the new year with a sense of renewed hope and anticipation for a better 2022, Covid-19 rears its ugly head and threatens to dampen efforts to get back to some semblance of normalcy.  A few months ago, the world was shaken once again with news of a new variant reported by the WHO.  Omicron has since been reported as having a higher transmission rate, higher immune evasion potential and lower virulence.

As people around the world have started getting booster shots, the CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla has announced that a specific Omicron vaccine will be available in March 2022.  The company has already begun manufacturing doses and claims to target other variants circulating.  It is racing ahead with plans to manufacture 50-100 million doses amidst rising concerns that the currently available vaccines are insufficient for the new threat.

At the same time, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel indicated that the company is working on a booster that targets Omicron and that clinical trials begin soon.  Moderna is testing different vaccine formulations, including a hybrid shot that would combine a flu vaccine and a coronavirus vaccine and is striving to have an Omicron-targeted shot available by the fall, in preparation for a likely coronavirus surge in the winter. The company is trying to create a single-dose, annual shot that will address multiple respiratory viruses, Bancel said, “a franchise that will evolve every year.”

Omicron Vaccine

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Dr William Moss who is the executive director of the International Vaccine Access Centre at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health stated that an Omicron-targeted vaccine was needed earlier, echoing other experts who warn that it may be too late due to the variants highly transmissible nature.  “It still could be valuable but I do think in many ways, it’s too late” for the current Omicron wave, Moss says.  More than 95% of reported Covid cases were due to the Omicron variant as of early January, according to the CDC.  If an Omicron-targeted vaccine had been available earlier, it “might have been sufficient to prevent some of these illnesses and better protect our workforce, particularly health care workers,” says Moss.  Given both Covid’s and Omicron’s unpredictability, and with new variants likely to emerge, having a vaccine that targets Omicron and other variants could be useful in some way, at some point, experts say. “In short, I think there will be some value to those who remained uninfected, assuming Omicron continues to be the dominant variant, but the impact of an Omicron-specific vaccine will be much less than if it were available earlier before the surge in infections,” Moss says.

The demands for boosters and potentially targeted vaccines has caused some alarm among global health authorities and advocates as inequitable distribution patterns over the past year have shown that vaccines have been reserved for wealthy nations, while delays occurred in developing nations and countries really needing vaccinations.  While calls have been made on drugs companies to open up their technology to vaccine manufacturers around the world, Pfizer and Moderna have resisted those demands citing that open technology sharing is not feasible because of supply chain constraints and the complexity of the mRNA manufacturing process.

Besides news of the new Omicron-targeted vaccine, Pfizer also announced a trio of deals to build out its budding franchise of mRNA candidates to target Covid, rare diseases, and cancer.  Pfizer is also making inroads in scaling out access to its oral Covid-19 treatment, Paxlovid. “In a couple of weeks, we will have it everywhere,” Bourla said of the U.S. access to the pill.

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