Live

Watch CBSN Live

CEOs and scientists on whether existing vaccines will work against Omicron

Pfizer says booster protects against Omicron
Pfizer says booster protects against Omicron 02:44

As cases of the Omicron variant continue to rise across the U.S., public health officials have one main question: Are the current COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer effective against the new variant?

For now, no one truly knows the answer but promising data released from Pfizer and BioNTech gave the U.S. a glimmer of hope. In a joint statement Wednesday, the companies said that while their current two-dose jab is "significantly less effective at blocking the virus," a booster shot "neutralized the Omicron variant in lab tests." There's also information from the Africa Health Research Institute published Tuesday suggesting that the booster is likely to protect people from serious illness from the new variant. 

The CEOs of Pfizer and Moderna, as well as scientists from Johnson & Johnson, have all weighed in on how effective their vaccine jabs could be. Here's a roundup of what top leaders from vaccine makers have said about their fight against Omicron. 

Moderna 

Moderna president Dr. Stephen Hoge said there's a good chance current vaccines won't hold up as well against the Omicron variant.   

"I think that there's a real risk that we're going to see a decrease in the effectiveness of the vaccines," Hoge told ABC News on Sunday. "What I don't know is how substantial that is."

Hoge's comment mirrors what company CEO Stéphane Bancel said last week: There's "going to be a material drop" in effectiveness against Omicron, he stated.

It would take three months for Moderna to produce a vaccine specifically for Omicron, Moderna's chief medical officer, Dr. Paul Burton, said last week. 

Johnson & Johnson

CEO Alex Gorsky has been relatively quiet about Omicron and how the Johnson & Johnson vaccine stacks up against the new variant.

Dr. Mathai Mammen, global head of research and development for the company, said Omicron's presence shows that drugmakers must continue testing and monitoring COVID-19's mutations. J&J is currently testing its vaccine against Omicron, Mammen said. 

"In parallel, we have begun work to design and develop a new vaccine against Omicron and will rapidly progress it into clinical studies if needed," Mammen said in a statement

The company hasn't revealed a timeline for producing an Omicron-specific vaccine. 

Pfizer

Pfizer said Wednesday that a third dose of its vaccine — the booster shot, which it developed alongside German biotech firm BioNTech— increased the number of neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron strain in individuals, on average, by 25-fold. The third jab provides basically the same amount of antibody protection against Omicron as two doses of the vaccine provide against Delta and other previous variants, Pfizer said in a joint statement with BioNTech.

Pfizer's findings, though preliminary, are significant because they suggest that even though two doses of the current vaccine appears to offer significantly less protection against catching the new variant, they can still help. Crucially, third doses of the vaccine are expected to continue to prevent severe cases of the virus, keeping people — even those with Omicron — out of hospitals. 

Pfizer said last week it could produce an Omicron-tailored vaccine in "approximately 100 days," subject to regulatory approval. 

AstraZeneca

CEO Pascal Soriot hasn't said much publicly about the new variant or if the company will need to develop a new vaccine against it. 

The British drug manufacturer partnered with Oxford University to create its current vaccination, which is being used widely across the U.K. but is not approved for use in the U.S. 

Existing coronavirus vaccinations, no matter who produced them, likely won't perform well against Omicron, said Oxford professor Sarah Gilbert, who helped create AstraZeneca's current jab. 

"Until we know more, we should be cautious, and take steps to slow down the spread of this new variant," she told the BBC on Monday.


View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.