The chief executive and founder of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin, has come forward with a more positive outlook on the developing Omicron COVID-19 outbreak. Having been at the helm of one of the most widely used COVID-19 vaccinations, formulated in collaboration with Pfizer, the executive believes that existing vaccines will still provide “substantial protection” against Omicron to those who have received them.
"To my mind there's no reason to be particularly worried,” Sahin said to Sky News. "The only thing that worries me at the moment is the fact that there are people that have not been vaccinated at all."
The new COVID-19 variant named Omicron has now been reported in Belgium, Canada, Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, the UK. While it was first detected in South Africa, the jury is still out as to its point of origin as there appears to be evidence that it may have come to the country from Europe. South Africa was able to detect the variant thanks to its sophisticated screening program, something which makes the country especially well placed for detecting new COVID-19 strains.
Omicron has experts worried owing to its intimidating number of mutations, so far 50 of which have been discovered. Of those, 32 pertain to the spike protein which is COVID-19’s key to infecting human cells. As such, changes here are of particular concern in assessing whether immunity gleaned from vaccinations or previous infection with other variants will provide any protection against future infection.
On the other side of the fence, Stéphane Bancel, chief executive of Moderna, fears that existing vaccines might not be up to the task when it comes to combating Omicron.
“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level... we had with [the] Delta [variant],” Bancel told the Financial Times. “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to... are like, ‘This is not going to be good’.”
Further time is needed to get a clear picture of the developing situation, which Bancel believes will become apparent in the next two weeks. However, vaccination remains the overarching theme of expert advice, with the CDC recently suggesting that all people over 18 should now seek out a booster shot for the best protection against the emerging Omicron strain.
[H/T: Sky News]