After New Omicron Variant, The Vaccine Race Starts All Over Again: Pfizer, Moderna, J&J Planning To Tweak Vaccines...

Published by Jack Wright for The Daily Mail

Scientists are racing to tweak existing vaccines against the new Covid variant spreading rapidly across the planet.

The 'monster' strain, named Omicron and designated a 'variant of concern' by the World Health Organisation on Friday, has reached the UK and Belgium after being discovered in South Africa.

The UN public health body sparked panic by warning that preliminary evidence suggested that the mutation has an increased risk of reinfection and is more transmissible than other strains. Scientists previously said that the variant could be vaccine resistant.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid banned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia yesterday, telling MPs that there is 'huge international concern' about the mutation.

Now a number of pharmaceutical firms have said they are working to adapt their vaccines to beat Omicron. AstraZeneca said it has 'developed, in close collaboration with Oxford University, a vaccine platform that enables us to respond quickly to new variants that may emerge' and is 'already conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified'.

Pfizer and BioNTech said that in the event of a variant which could escape the effects of the vaccines, the firm expects 'to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval'.

Novavax said it has 'already initiated development of a new recombinant spike protein based on the known genetic sequence of B.1.1.529 and will have it ready to begin testing and manufacturing within the next few weeks'.

And Moderna said: 'Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern. This strategy includes three levels of response should the currently authorized 50 microgram booster dose of mRNA-1273 prove insufficient to boost waning immunity against the Omicron variant.'

Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the Omicron variant.

The EU, US and Canada all followed Britain's move to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa ahead of the WHO adding the strain, also known as B.1.1.529, to its highest category for concerning variants.

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