Pfizer is testing the vaccine against a new COVID-19 strain
Pfizer said Friday that they can produce one covid-19 vaccine for new virus strain identified in South Africa of “approximately 100 days”, subject to government approval.
The drug company said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch that researchers are now conducting tests to see if the company’s existing vaccine is effective against the variant, called “Omicron” by the World Health Organization.
If not, Pfizer said it would “produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant”[ads1]; with its German vaccine partner, BioNTech. Pfizer and BioNTech expect to have results from their tests on Omicron in two weeks, Reuters reported.
A new vaccine will require the approval of the Food and Drug Administration, possibly under authorization for emergency use. But it will first require US health and human services Xavier Becerra to declare Omicron a public health emergency. It took Pfizer and BioNTech from December 2020 to August this year to get full FDA approval for their vaccine.
South African health authorities said Omicron has more mutations than previous strains that have previously appeared around the world, including the Delta variant. The concern is that the new variant may be more transmissible and more resistant to current vaccines, South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim told CBS News.
“If this variant is equal, or more transferable than Delta variant“It will be very difficult to predict, to do something different from what we have seen, which is that it will grow and spread all over the world,” said Karim.
The WHO on Friday identified Omicron as a “variant of concern”, noting in a statement that early evidence “suggests an increased risk of reinfection.”
So far, fewer than 100 cases of the new COVID-19 variant have been confirmed. Most of these cases have been among young people in South Africa, who have the lowest vaccination rate in the country. Botswana and Hong Kong also confirmed cases related to Omicron in travelers who had recently returned from South Africa
The Biden administration said on Friday that it would restrict travel from eight countries in South Africa due to concerns about the variant circulating in the region, according to the senior administration. Restrictions on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi begin on Monday.
The restrictions do not apply to U.S. citizens or legal residents, although these individuals still need to test negative before traveling.
Other vaccine manufacturers on the case
Other drug manufacturers said they are also investigating how the new variant interacts with their COVID-19 vaccine.
A spokesman for Johnson & Johnson told CBS MoneyWatch that the company “is already testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new and rapidly spreading variant first discovered in southern Africa.” The spokesperson did not provide a timeline for any changes to the one-shot vaccine.
Moderna said it is also testing the effectiveness of the vaccine against Omicron, with data from these tests “expected in the coming weeks.”
“The mutations in the Omicron variant are worrying, and for several days we have been moving as fast as possible to implement our strategy to address this variant,” said Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel in a statement.
Reports of the new variant raged the global financial markets. The Dow fell more than 900 points, or 2.5%, in abbreviated trading on Friday – the worst trading day of the year for the blue-chip index. The S&P 500 fell 2.3%, the biggest setback since February, and the technology-heavy Nasdaq lost 2.2%.
On the other hand, shares in the vaccine manufacturers rose. Moderna’s share price rose 22% to $ 33, while Pfizer rose 6% to $ 54. Johnson & Johnson shares were largely flat.