Oxford sees no evidence Omicron defeats vaccines so far

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(Photo by Deaan Vivier/Beeld/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
(Photo by Deaan Vivier/Beeld/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

There’s no evidence existing vaccines won’t provide some protection against the omicron variant, the University of Oxford said as scientists scramble to assess the new Covid-19 mutation.

“Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that omicron is any different,” the university said Tuesday. 

Drugmakers are rushing to test their shots and therapeutics against omicron amid signs it could spread more quickly and evade vaccine protection due to the high number of mutations it displays. Companies and scientists have all said it will take some weeks before the true impact is known, with little data to go on so far. 

AstraZeneca Plc, which co-developed the Covid vaccine with Oxford, said Friday it was testing the shot and already conducting research in countries such as Botswana where the variant has been identified. Oxford has the “tools and processes in place” to swiftly tweak the vaccine to target omicron if needed, it said. 

Pfizer Inc. said it will know in the next two to three weeks how well its vaccine holds-up against omicron, while Moderna’s top executives reiterated that the variant’s many mutations suggest new vaccines will be needed. 

The head of Europe’s drugs regulator told the European Parliament Tuesday it’s not known if adaptations will be necessary, but it would take the agency three to four months to authorize a new version from the start of development.

The omicron variant has spooked scientists because of the high number of mutations it has, many more than the highly-transmissible delta variant. The majority of the changes are to the virus’s spike protein, which it uses to enter cells and has been the target of the current crop of authorized vaccines, adding to the concerns.

Astra shares traded 0.9% lower in Tuesday afternoon trading in London.

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