It will take months to develop and ship a vaccine targeting the omicron variant of COVID-19 — but a higher dose of a booster shot could be "done right away," Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said Monday.
In an interview on CNBC’s "Squawk Box," Bancel said the pharmaceutical company believes the omicron variant is highly infectious, though it won’t be clear for a couple of weeks how effective current vaccinations fare against it.
"The higher dose could be done right away but it will be months before the omicron specific variant is ready to ship in massive quantities," Bancel told CNBC.
"Depending on how much [effectiveness of the current vaccine] dropped, we might decide on the one hand to give a higher dose of the current vaccine around the world to protect people, maybe people at very high risk, the immunocompromised, and the elderly should need a fourth dose" he said.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, told CNBC the FDA can move fast to approve a new vaccine to target omicron.
"I think the FDA is in a position to move very quickly at this point because they understand the basic platform, the manufacturing has been inspected, they understand the risk-benefit of the mRNA platforms generally," Gottlieb, who is a Pfizer board member, told the news outlet.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC the impact of omicron on the company’s two-dose vaccine remains to be seen.
"I don’t think that the result will be the vaccines don’t protect," Bourla told CNBC. "I think the result could be, which we don’t know yet, the vaccines protect less."
Bourla said Pfizer has already begun work to manufacture a new vaccine in case it becomes necessary. The company made its first DNA template Friday, he said, the initial step in the development process.
"We have made multiple times clear that we would be able to have the vaccine in less than 100 days," Bourla told the news outlet, noting Pfizer was able to create vaccines for the beta and delta variants quickly — though they weren’t used because the original shots remained effective.
The World Health Organization, in a paper published Sunday, said omicron has more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that binds to human cells. These mutations are associated with higher transmission and potentially reduced antibody protection, it said.
Omicron, first identified in South Africa’s Gauteng province where Johannesburg is located, is spreading globally already, Bancel told CNBC.
"We also believe it is already present in most countries," Bancel said. "I believe most countries that have direct flights from South Africa in the last seven to 10 days already have cases in their country that they may not be aware of."
According to Bancel, the symptoms reported in South Africa may not be a good predictor of the variant’s virulence since less than 5% of the population is over 60 and has far fewer comorbidities than the United States and Europe.
"I think today, it’s really impossible to know ... I don’t believe that what’s going to happen in the coming week or two in South Africa will be predicting to be full virulence of a virus," he told the news outlet.
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