Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel predicts there will be a “material drop” in the effectiveness of the current COVID-19 vaccines against the Omicron variant — and said it will take drugmakers months to produce enough targeted jabs for the emerging strain.
“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta,” Bancel told the Financial Times on Monday.
“I think it’s going to be a material drop. 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,’” he added at the company’s headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Bancel noted that the current vaccines against the virus may need to be modified due to the high number of mutations in the variant’s spike protein that binds to human cells.
On Monday, Moderna, BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson said they are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron.
Bancel’s comments come after he also told CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Monday that vaccine efficacy for the “highly contagious” Omicron has likely dropped, adding that the variant already appears to be “much more infectious” than the Delta variant.
Omicron is now the dominant strain in southern Africa, less than two weeks after it was first detected in the country, according to information published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and reported by CNN.
Bancel told the Financial Times that data indicating how current vaccines performed against the variant, and whether it caused severe illness, should become available within two weeks.
However, he estimated that it could take 60 to 90 days for an Omicron-specific vaccine to be tweaked and approved by federal regulators — and even longer for the shots to become widely available.
“[Moderna] and Pfizer cannot get a billion doses next week. The maths doesn’t work. But could we get the billion doses out by the summer? Sure,” said Bancel, who predicted Moderna could produce 2 billion to 3 billion doses next year.
Meanwhile, health authorities are still rushing to determine if the variant is more transmissible or if infection causes more serious illness.
So far, no deaths linked to the variant had been reported and the South African doctor who first sounded the alarm about it said that its symptoms are “unusual but mild” in healthy patients.
As such, many COVID-19 experts say it is “premature” to sound the alarm over the new Omicron variant until more is known about the strain — warning that overblowing concerns about it could badly backfire.
“Reacting to a new variant, especially this one, is probably premature, especially since it seems that there’s no evidence that it’s actually worse” than any other strain, said Dr. Michael Blaivas, chief medical officer of Anavasi Diagnostics, to The Post.