Moderna CEO’s comments on Omicron COVID-19 Variant jolt international markets

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Leading European stock markets according to Aljazeera News fell about 1.5 percent in early trade, Tokyo’s Nikkei index closed down 1.6 percent, crude oil futures shed more than 3 percent, and the Australian dollar hit a one-year low as Stephane Bancel’s comments triggered fears that vaccine resistance may prolong the pandemic.

The chief executive of drugmaker Moderna set off fresh alarm bells in financial markets on Tuesday with a warning that existing COVID-19 vaccines would be less effective against the Omicron variant than they have been against the Delta variant.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level … we had with Delta,” 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’,” Bancel said.

Meanwhile, European Medicines Agency (EMA) Executive Director Emer Cooke told the European Parliament that even if the new variant becomes more widespread, existing vaccines will continue to provide protection.

Moderna did not reply to a request for comment according to Reuters news agency, or say when it expects to have data on the effectiveness of its vaccine on Omicron, which the World Health Organization (WHO) says carries a very high risk of infection surges.

Vaccine for the new variant

Bancel had earlier told broadcaster CNBC that it could take months to begin shipping a vaccine designed for the new variant.

The WHO and scientists have also said it could take weeks to understand whether Omicron is likely to cause severe illness or escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines.

Cooke said lab tests for “cross neutralisation” would take about two weeks. If there were a need to change COVID-19 vaccines, new ones could be approved within three or four months, she added.

“Vaccination will likely still keep you out of the hospital,” said John Wherry, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology in Philadelphia.

Moderna and fellow drugmakers BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson are working on vaccines that specifically target Omicron in case existing shots are not effective against it. Moderna has also been testing a higher dose of its existing booster.

Source: Aljazeera and News agencies

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