news, 28 Nov 21

With the new variant spreading and fears it will hit Australia, vaccine manufacturers are looking at how to boost people’s protection.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has said that if it is discovered that the new Omicron variant is resistant to its current Covid-19 vaccine than it can have an updated version manufactured and distributed within 100 days.

Comment: Follow the money! Who wants to be first? Bearing in mind the mutation was first detected in four FULLY vaccinated people from Botswana.

The Omicron variant was discovered in South Africa, but cases have already been detected in Italy, Belgium, Germany and the UK and its also likely to have entered the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, prompting a wave of new travel restrictions across Europe.

It has also been found in Israel and Hong Kong

There are fears it has already hit Australia too, with urgent genomic sequencinunderway after passengers arrived in Sydney from southern Africa last night tested positive for Covid-19.

The Omicron variant was dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation on Friday.

A pop up vaccination site in Melbourne. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling

It has more than 30 mutations on its spike protein which is more than double the number carried by Delta, meaning it could be easier to evade antibodies created by vaccines, making it a particular concern for scientists.

Even among the vaccinated, the mutations might also cause the variant to spread easily.

However, at this point, the exact effect of Omicron is unknown.

Pfizer said it expects to know within two weeks from tests whether the Omicron variant is resistant to its current vaccine.

“Pfizer and BioNTech have taken actions months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant,” the company said.

Moderna’s vaccine, which was made available to Aussies at the start of October, said it was also investigating, with plans to test a variant specific booster if its current jab is ineffective against Omicron.

“From the beginning, we have said that as we seek to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative that we are proactive as the virus evolves,” said Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel.

“The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant.”

The company noted that the combination of mutations in the variant “represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”

It will also test three booster candidates against Omicron, including at a higher dosage level.

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European manufacturer AstraZeneca said it was also looking into the new variant, adding its vaccine platform allows a quick response to new mutations.

“AstraZeneca is also already conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified, namely in Botswana and Eswatini,” the company said.

A pop up vaccination site in Melbourne. Picture: NCA NewsWire / David Crosling