Moderna CEO thinks COVID-19 vaccines will lose efficacy due to Omicron strain

The efficacy of coronavirus vaccines will decrease significantly with the emergence of the new Omicron variant, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel has said.

“I think it’s going to be a material drop [of effectiveness]. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to are like ‘this is not going to be good,'” Bancel said in an interview with Financial Times, published on Tuesday.

According to the Moderna chief, the high number of spike protein mutations along with the variant’s quick spread in South Africa may warrant modification for the current vaccines line-up next year. The business executive added that most experts were not expecting such a highly-mutated strain for a year or two and that scientists were concerned about Omicron’s 32 mutations.

Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified the new strain as one of concern, as its high number of mutations possibly make it more transmissible and dangerous. The WHO has dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Moderna had to give 60% of its vaccine output to the US authorities in response to their criticism of international vaccine manufacturers due to insufficient support for developing countries with low vaccination rates.

“This was mostly a policy decision by the rich countries. In the US, we were told we had no choice but to give 60 percent of our output to the US government. That was not a Moderna decision, that was a US government decision,” Bancel said.

The executive also said that there was a surplus of vaccine doses produced for Africa and that 70 million Moderna shots were kept in warehouses because neither COVAX nor individual governments had taken responsibility for their delivery.

On 14 October, David Kessler, chief science officer of the US COVID-19 response team, warned Moderna of consequences if the company does not provide enough vaccine doses for COVAX.

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