Germany’s BioNTech should be able to adapt its coronavirus vaccine relatively quickly in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, its CEO Ugur Sahin told the Reuters Next conference on Friday.
BioNTech and Pfizer Inc together produced one of the first vaccines against COVID-19 and Sahin also said that vaccines should continue to provide protection against severe disease, despite mutations.
“This variant might be able to infect vaccinated people. We anticipate that infected people who have been vaccinated will still be protected against severe disease,” Sahin said.
The BioNTech chief executive also said that mutations in the virus meant it was more likely that annual vaccinations would become likely, as is the case with seasonal flu and that a new vaccine would be needed against COVID-19, although it was not yet clear when it would be required.
Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been spotted in at least two dozen countries, just as parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the Delta variant.
“We expect this variant might be able to infect vaccinated people and this variant will most likely be able to infect people with high exposure. That is one of the things that is now getting more and more clear. It is not clear whether this variant produces more severe disease,” Sahin said.
The BioNTech CEO, whose work until the emergence of the COVID-19 coronavirus in 2020 was focused on cancer, said that the new variant had emerged sooner than he had expected, adding that he had anticipated one some time in 2022.