Moderna Vaccine CEO: Omicron Variant Is Much More Infectious Than Delta, Vaccine Efficacy Has Likely Dropped

Moderna Vaccine CEO: Omicron Variant Is Much More Infectious Than Delta, Vaccine Efficacy Has Likely Dropped

omicron vaccine

Commuters wear protective face masks as they walk through a subway station, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021, amid the covid-19 pandemic. Brazil joined the widening circle of countries to report cases of the omicron variant. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Vaccine efficacy for the highly contagious omicron variant has likely dropped, but a full review of its impact will not be known for at least two weeks after data has been collected and analyzed, said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in an interview with CNBC’s “Squawk Box”.

The covid omicron variant is on track to become the most dominant strain in Southern Africa, where it was first discovered by scientists in late November and appears to be more infectious than the delta variant, according to Bancel.

“We need to wait for the data to see if it’s true and how much it is going down, ”Bancel told CNBC’S Squawk Box.

The large number of mutations in omicron makes it difficult for current vaccines to be as effective as they have been against the original covid-19 virus and the delta variant, according to Bancel.

He said it will take a few weeks before scientists can come up with a conclusion on the vaccine efficacy, and two-to-six weeks until they know whether omicron is more dangerous than delta.

“It took four months for the delta variant to overtake the beta variant,” Bancel said. “Omicron is overtaking delta in South Africa in a few weeks. We believe this virus is highly contagious. We need to get more data to confirm this, but it seems to be much more infectious than delta, which is problematic.”

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He estimated that any country that has accepted travelers from Southern Africa in the last seven to 10 days likely has the omicron variant present, even if it has not yet been detected.

Some countries including the U.S. have taken measures to ban flights from eight countries in the region and this could slow down the progress of the virus while scientists figure out the efficacy of the vaccine, according to Bancel.

Moderna is already working on boosters to address the new variant. Within a few weeks, the company will know which strategy to pursue — a higher dose of current vaccines, a booster, or a new vaccine to address the variant.

Bancel estimated that it could take 60 to 90 days for an omicron-specific vaccine to be fine-tuned and get approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

World Health Organization (WHO) labeled omicron a “variant of concern,” which is the most serious designation of a covid-19 variant.

“It is not yet clear whether infection with omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including delta.  Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa,” the WHO said in a statement.

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