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Vaccine likely to protect against severe Covid from Omicron: BioNTech CEO

BioNTech’s Chief Executive Ugur Sahin says the established vaccine will likely prevent hospitalisation from the new Omicron virus variant and there is no reason to be particularly worried.

Lab tests are underway over the next two weeks to analyse the blood of people who had two or three doses of BioNTech's Comirnaty vaccine to see if antibodies found in that blood inactivate Omicron. (AA)
Lab tests are underway over the next two weeks to analyse the blood of people who had two or three doses of BioNTech’s Comirnaty vaccine to see if antibodies found in that blood inactivate Omicron. (AA)
(AA)

BioNTech and Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine will “likely offer strong protection” against any severe disease from the new Omicron virus variant.

This is according to BioNTech’s Chief Executive Ugur Sahin who spoke to Reuters News Agency on Tuesday, as the firm weighs the need to upgrade its commonly used shot.

“We think it’s likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron,” said Sahin. 

He specified severe disease as requiring hospital or intensive care.

Lab tests are underway over the next two weeks to analyse the blood of people who had two or three doses of BioNTech’s Comirnaty vaccine to see if antibodies found in that blood inactivate Omicron. The tests hope to shed light on whether new vaccines are needed.

Sahin added he expects the lab tests to show some loss of vaccine protection against mild and moderate disease due to Omicron, but the extent of that loss was hard to predict.

READ MORE: ‘Vaccine’ is Merriam-Webster’s 2021 word of the year

Upgraded vaccines

The biotech firm is speedily working on an upgraded version
of its vaccine, of which well over 2 billion doses have been
delivered, although it remains unclear whether that is needed,
he added.

Sahin said getting a third vaccine shot known as a booster
will likely confer a layer of protection against Omicron
infections of any severity compared to those with just a
two-shot course.

“To my mind there’s no reason to be particularly worried.
The only thing that worries me at the moment is the fact that
there are people that have not been vaccinated at all,” Sahin
added.

BioNTech’s guarded confidence contrasts with a sense of alarm conveyed by the chief executive of rival vaccine maker Moderna, Stephane Bancel.

Bancel had raised the prospect of a material drop in protection against the new coronavirus lineage from current vaccines.

Sahin said antibodies brought about by vaccination could struggle latching on to the new virus lineage but he added that t-cells, another line of immune defence, were set to recognise the vast parts of Omicron’s spike protein that remain unchanged.

Sahin would not be drawn on whether Omicron will become as dominant as the Delta variant.

“But even if, that in itself is no reason to panic,” he said.

READ MORE:South Africa virology expert: Omicron could ‘outcompete’ Delta

Source: Reuters

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