BioNTech Asks for 2 Weeks to Tell If Its Vaccine Works Against the New COVID Variant

Dubbed Omicron, the new one "differs significantly from previously observed variants."
Loukia Papadopoulos

As countries and governments everywhere panic, BioNTech emerges with a potential solution saying it needs only two weeks to tell if the COVID-19 vaccine it developed with Pfizer works against the new variant that appears to have emerged in southern Africa, the Financial Times first reported.

The new variant is called the B.1.1.529 — also dubbed as Omicron — and it was detected in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, and Israel. "We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations on variant B.1.1.529," BioNTech told Business Insider. "We expect more data from the laboratory tests in two weeks at the latest."

The firm added that both Pfizer and BioNTech have begun months ago to adapt the mRNA vaccine so that it targets the new variant within six weeks and so that they could ship initial batches of the new version within 100 days in the event of an escape variant.

"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 added.

The new variant of coronavirus has scientists worried since it has twice the number of mutations seen on the Delta variant.

Over the summer, the Delta variant that had 11-15 mutations in its spike protein became the dominant infection around the world. Now, scientists are more worried than ever because B1.1.529 has 32 mutations in its spike protein which could significantly alter the virus' structure meaning even the vaccinated may not be protected against it.

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For now, it still remains to be seen whether the new mutations make the B.1.1.529 variant more infectious or deadly. So far, however, its ascent has been reported to be much faster than that of the Beta and Delta variants becoming dominant in a matter of days instead of months.

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