Vaccine makers have plans to make Omicron-specific booster, says Fauci

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COVID-19 vaccine makers have contingency plans to deal with the Omicron variant that include a combination vaccine against the original version and the variant as well as a variant-specific booster dose, infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Friday.

The US government is working with Moderna, Pfizer, and J&J on multiple contingency plans, Fauci told reporters at a White House briefing.

“One is to rev up the production of the vaccines that they already have. The next is to make, for example, a bivalent, where you have the vaccine against both the ancestral strain and the new variant, and the other is to make a variant-specific boost,” said Fauci.

“They are now assuming they may have to do that and are being prepared for that,” he added.

The US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention is working with local authorities to investigate suspect cases of the Omicron variant in states other than those where cases have already been reported, Director Rochelle Walensky said at the briefing.

There have been cases of Omicron detected in about 40 countries, she said, but the Delta variant remains the dominant strain in the United States.

“I know that the news is focused on Omicron. But we should remember that 99.9% of cases in the country right now are from the Delta variant. Delta continues to drive cases across the country, especially in those who are unvaccinated,” she said.

South Africa’s daily number of confirmed cases almost quadrupled since Tuesday as the Omicron variant spreads across the country.

At least six US states have Omicron cases, with Nebraska reporting six infections on Friday. The variant has also been found in New York, California, Colorado, Hawaii and Minnesota. COVID-19 infections in the US are at the highest level in two months.

Britain on Friday reported 50,584 further cases of COVID-19 and 143 more deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data.

That compares with 53,945 cases and 141 deaths reported a day earlier.

US President Joe Biden said on Friday he will continue to rely on scientists to assess whether a change in travel restrictions is necessary, adding that right now no change is recommended.

Earlier on Friday, the World Health Organisation’s emergencies director, Mike Ryan, said that if an Omicron-specific vaccine was needed, work was already underway.The agency said it was still studying the transmissibility and severity of the new variant.

His remarks came as the head of BioNTech, the German coronavirus vaccine partner to pharmaceutical company Pfizer, said on Friday that a new coronavirus vaccine could eventually be needed in the face of the Omicron variant.

“I believe, in principle, we will at a certain timepoint need a new vaccine against this new variant. The question is how urgent this needs to be available,” CEO Ugur Sahin told a conference hosted by Reuters.

Sahin also said that he expected the Omicron variant may still infect those who have been vaccinated – known as breakthrough cases – however, he added that vaccines should continue to provide protection against severe disease.

He said the current vaccine could be adapted “relatively quickly” if needed to combat the omicron variant, but cautioned that more research was still required.

A new coronavirus vaccine could eventually be needed in the face of the Omicron variant.Credit:

Meanwhile, a preliminary study published on Thursday said that Omicron is at least three times more likely to cause reinfection than previous variants such as Delta and Beta.

Reuters and AP

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