Pfizer said Friday that it can produce a COVID-19 vaccine against the new variant Omicron, that was first identified in South Africa in “approximately 100 days,” subject to government regulatory approval.
BioNTech says it could produce and ship an updated version of its vaccine within 100 days if the new Covid variant detected in southern Africa is found to evade existing immunity.
The German biotechnology company is already investigating whether the vaccine it developed with US drugmaker Pfizer works well against the variant, named Omicron, which has caused concern due to its high number of mutations and initial suggestions that it could be transmitting more quickly.
The company says it will know in two weeks whether its current vaccine is likely to be sufficiently effective against the B.1.1.529 variant, now named Omicron by the World Health Organization, based on lab-based experiments.
According to scientists, Omicron has 32 mutations in the part of the virus that attaches to human cells. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine targets the spike protein, the part of the virus where mutations occur.
“Pfizer and BioNTech have taken actions months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant,” the company said. “To that end, the companies have begun clinical trials with variant-specific vaccines (alpha and delta) to collect safety and tolerability data that can be provided to regulators,” the company continued.
Cases of Omicron have already been detected in Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel.
Several European countries such as France, Germany, UK, Italy and lately the USA, have already announced restricted travel from countries where Omicron is present notably South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini and Mozambique.