BioNTech and Pfizer vaccine likely protects against severe disease from Omicron variant, executive says

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Cominternity vaccine vials from Pfizer-BioEntech.Jeff Pachaud / AFP / Getty Images

BioNtech and Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine will provide stronger protection against any serious disease from the new Omicron virus variant, BioNTech’s chief executive told Reuters, as the firm weighs in on the more commonly used shot. Upgrade is required.

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Lab tests are underway over the next two weeks to analyze the blood of people who’ve had two or three doses of BioNTech’s comarinati vaccine to see if the antibodies found in that blood neutralize Omicron. , highlighting whether new vaccines are needed.

Ugur Sahin, CEO and co-founder of BioNTech, said, “We think it is likely that people will have adequate protection against serious disease caused by Omicron.” He specified serious illness as requiring hospital or intensive care.

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Sahin said he expected lab tests to show some reduction in the vaccine’s safety against mild and moderate disease caused by Omicron, but the extent of that harm was hard to estimate.

He said the biotech firm is rapidly working on an improved version of its vaccine, of which more than 2 billion doses have been distributed, although it is unclear whether this is needed.

Sahin said the third vaccine shot, known as a booster, would only provide a layer of protection against Omicron infections of any severity compared to those with a two-shot course.

“There is no reason to be particularly concerned in my view. The only thing that worries me at the moment is that there are people who have not been vaccinated at all,” Sahin said.

BioNTech’s protected confidence contrasts with a sense of alarm expressed by Stefan Bansel, chief executive of rival vaccine maker Moderna, which has raised the possibility of a material decline in protection against the new coronavirus lineage from existing vaccines.

Sahin said that the antibodies brought about by vaccination may contend for the new virus lineage, but he added that T-cells, another line of immune defense, were determined to recognize the vast majority of Omicron’s spike proteins that remain unchanged.

Whereas antibodies bind directly to the virus and prevent infection, long-lasting T-cells attack cells that have already been hijacked by the virus, preventing viral replication and severe disease.

Pfizer and BioNTech have already developed versions of their established mRNA-based vaccines – based on the original virus found in China – to target so-called alpha and delta variants, with clinical trials continuing. with.

Those efforts are not aimed at getting a commercial product, but to establish a routine with regulators that will help prevent any future vaccine resumption.

Sahin said that’s why regulators will not require testing on human volunteers and analysis of their immune responses to any Omicron-specific vaccine upgrades.

“The advantage is that we’ve been practicing this pit stop for months and if we change the tires for real we’ll be able to say we’ve performed it for one version and two variants before,” Sahin said.

He said he still expects it to take about 100 days to launch in the market with an initial batch of 25-50 million doses, provided regulators are satisfied.

Sahin won’t be attracted to whether Omicron will become as dominant as the Delta version. “But even then, that in itself is no reason to panic,” he said.

The European Union’s drugs regulator said on Tuesday it could approve customized vaccines to target Omicron within three to four months if needed, but existing shots would continue to provide protection.

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