Vaccine Upgrade Being Considered By BioNtech, Can Move Fast To Address Omicron Threat, Says CEO

BioNTech should be able to change its coronavirus vaccine swiftly in reaction to the Omicron variant, and the next few weeks will demonstrate how urgently an upgrade is required, according to BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin, who spoke at the Reuters Next conference on Friday.

People should continue to seek out the established injection, which was created in collaboration with Pfizer, because it is extremely likely to protect against serious illness, according to Sahin.

“I believe in principle at a certain timepoint we will need a new vaccine against this new variant. The question is how urgent it needs to be available,” Sahin said.

He stated that a product relaunch might happen in around 100 days and that a redesign is currently in the works. Any evidence of the present shot’s protection against serious illness, on the other hand, might allow time for developers to take a more cautious approach.

He said that if third booster shots still prevent disease at an 85-90% rate, “we would have more time to adapt a vaccine”, he said.

BioNTech and Pfizer, both of Germany, developed one of the earliest COVID-19 vaccines, with well over 2 billion doses already administered to protect individuals all over the world.

There are fears that the vaccinations would fail to protect against the Omicron form, which was discovered last month.

In a Reuters interview on Tuesday, Sahin repeated his belief that the new strain may infect vaccinated persons but would likely prevent the need for hospital treatment. 

“We expect that this new variant will evolve as an antibody escape variant. That means this variant might be able to infect vaccinated,” Sahin said.

“We anticipate that infected people who have been vaccinated will still be protected against severe disease,” Sahin added.

The BioNTech CEO, whose work centred on cancer until the COVID-19 coronavirus surfaced in 2020, said the new variety had arisen sooner than he had expected.

“This highly mutant virus came earlier than I had expected. I had expected sometime next year and it’s already with us.”

According to Sahin, alterations in the virus made it more probable that yearly immunizations, like with seasonal flu, will be the norm.

Omicron, which was originally discovered in southern Africa last month and has now been discovered in at least two dozen nations, is still a mystery. It was discovered at a time when regions of Europe were already experiencing a wave of Delta variant infections.

When asked if the Omicron variety was contagious, Ozlem Tureci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer and co-founder, said it will be clear in the next days or weeks.

BioNTech has been chastised for the poor pace with which vaccines are being delivered in low-income nations. A proposed vaccine production network in Africa, according to CEO Sahin, would eventually be passed to indigenous ownership and management.

“Our most important concern is to ensure that the quality is established. How this could be guaranteed when we transfer our technology, and when we transfer also the ownership, is something that we are discussing at the moment,” he added.

Vaccine patents, on the other hand, should not be repealed, as US Vice President Joe Biden has urged, because any knowledge transfer would necessitate BioNTech’s active participation.

To ensure consistent quality, even the most experienced manufacturing contractors required one-site monitoring from BioNTech experts, according to Sahin.

“It’s not that we want to be involved, we have to be involved. I’m not against patent waivers,” he added. “I’m seeking solutions.”

(Adapted from Reuters.com)

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