BioNTech CEO says vaccine likely to protect against severe COVID from Omicron
Barbara Violo, pharmacist and owner of The Junction Chemist Pharmacy, draws up a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, in Toronto, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Ludwig Burger And Patricia Weiss, Reuters
Published Tuesday, November 30, 2021 12:20PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, November 30, 2021 12:21PM EST
FRANKFURT, Nov 30 (Reuters) -- BioNTech and Pfizer's established COVID-19 vaccine will likely offer strong protection against any severe disease from the new Omicron virus variant, BioNTech's Chief Executive told Reuters.
Lab tests are underway over the next two weeks to analyze the blood of people who had two or three doses of BioNTech's Comirnaty vaccine to see if antibodies found in that blood inactivate Omicron, potentially shedding light on whether new vaccines are needed.
"We think it's likely that people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron," said BioNTech CEO and co-founder Ugur Sahin. He specified severe disease as requiring hospital or intensive care.
Sahin told Reuters he expects the lab tests to show some loss of vaccine protection against mild and moderate disease due to Omicron, but the extent of that loss was hard to predict.
The biotech firm is speedily working on an upgraded version of its vaccine, although it remains unclear whether that is needed, he added.
Sahin said getting a third vaccine shot known as booster will likely confer a layer of protection against Omicron infection of any severity compared to those with just the initial two-shot course.
"To my mind there's no reason to be particularly worried. The only thing that worries me at the moment is the fact that there are people that have not been vaccinated at all," Sahin added.
BioNTech's guarded confidence contrasts with a sense of alarm conveyed by the chief executive of rival vaccine maker Moderna, Stephane Bancel.
In a Financial Times interview, he raised the prospect of a material drop in protection against the new coronavirus lineage from current vaccines, sparking fresh worry in financial markets about the trajectory of the pandemic.