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Local Researchers Test COVID Samples To Determine Prevalence Of Omicron Variant In Massachusetts

BOSTON (CBS) -- Since Massachusetts is a hub for medical research, much of the surveillance around the COVID-19 Omicron variant is happening in the Boston area.

"I'd expect to see some info from labs over the next week or two," said Dr. Paul Sax, Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Brigham and Mass General Hospital work in collaboration with MIT and Harvard's Broad Institute. Broad has one of the few labs with sequencing technology that can detect specific variants in COVID samples.

"Right now I happen to know we're using some results from patients diagnosed here who have lots of virus, meaning low cycle thresholds on their PCR, and sending those for sequencing. But it's not done routinely," said Dr. Sax.

The Cambridge-based vaccine manufacturer Moderna is also in the new push to beat Omicron.

The company's CEO Stéphane Bancel said, "We are rapidly advancing an omicron-specific booster candidate."

The vaccine maker Pfizer has an office in Cambridge too. The company put out a statement on Monday pertaining to the new variant.

"In the event that a variant emerges that escapes protection of our vaccine, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days," Pfizer wrote.

Dr. Sax said people should not wait for pharmaceutical companies to tweak their boosters.

"I would not wait for the tweaked version," he said. "It's going to be at least a couple of months before they have that version available, and you know that's a good thing, because we want to really see what is the impact of the variant on COVID-19 incidents."

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