Medical Technology

BioNTech CEO Says Vaccines are likely to protect Against Severe Omicron COVID

FRANKFURT, (Reuters) – BioNTech’s Chief Executive has said that the COVID-19 vaccine which is a mix of Pfizer and BioNTech, will likely provide strong protection against severe Omicron virus disease. This was as the firm weighs whether to upgrade its widely used shot.

Over the next two weeks, lab tests will be conducted to analyze the blood of those who have taken two or three doses BioNTech’s Comirnaty vaccination. This will determine if the antibodies present in the blood inhibit Omicron and will help determine if new vaccines are required.

“We think it’s likely that people will be provided with substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron,” said BioNTech CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin. He defined severe disease as one that requires hospitalization or intensive care.

Sahin said he was expecting the laboratory tests to reveal some reduction in vaccine protection against mild and medium disease due to Omicron. However it was not possible to estimate the magnitude of the loss.

He said that the biotech company is working swiftly to improve the effectiveness of its vaccine. More than 2 billion doses have been administered. However, it is not clear if this is necessary.

Sahin said that an additional shot of vaccination called boosters will likely provide an additional layer of protection against Omicron infections of any degree compared to those with just a two-shot course.

“To my mind, there’s no reason to be worried about anything at all. The only thing that worries me right now is the possibility that there are people who haven’t been vaccinated in any way,” Sahin added.

BioNTech’s stoic confidence is in stark contrast to a sense of alarm conveyed by the chief executive officer of rival manufacturer of vaccines Moderna, Stephane Bancel, who has suggested the possibility of a significant drop in protection against the latest coronavirus lineage of vaccines currently in use.

Sahin said that the antibodies induced by vaccination may struggle to latch on to the new lineage of viruses. However, he said that t-cells are another source of immune defense and were trained to recognize the vast majority of Omicron’s spike proteins, which remain unchanged.

While antibodies directly bind to viruses and stop infections longer-lasting t-cells attack cells that have been hijacked by the virus to stop viral replication and severe disease.

Pfizer and BioNTech have already developed versions of their mRNA-based vaccination, based on the original virus that originated from China. These vaccines have been targeted at the so called Alpha and Delta variants. Clinical trials are currently in progress.

These efforts are not intended to create commercial products instead, they are designed to establish a system that will allow regulators to speed up any future vaccine launch.

Sahin said that regulators would not require testing on human volunteers or an analysis of their immune reactions to any Omicron-specific vaccination upgrade.

Sahin said, “The advantage is that this pit stop has been practiced for months , and if we do actually change tires for real, we’ll be able say we’ve done this before for two variants and one variant.”

He said he anticipates to launch a market launch of 25-50,000,000 doses, starting with the first batch taking 100 days to be ready in the event that regulators are satisfied.

Sahin would not be drawn on whether Omicron will be as dominant as the Delta variant. “But even if it does, there isn’t a reason to panic,” he said.

On Tuesday, the EU drug regulator announced that it could approve vaccines that target Omicron within three to four months, if needed however, existing shots would offer protection.

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