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Current vaccines likely less effective against Omicron: Moderna CEO

He says more data needed; vaccine-makers working on new jabs against variant

HONG KONG/SYDNEY : Drugmaker Moderna's chief executive set off fresh alarm bells in financial markets yesterday after he warned that Covid-19 vaccines were unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant as they have been against the Delta version.

Crude oil futures shed more than a dollar, the Australian currency hit a year low, and Nikkei gave up gains as Mr Stephane Bancel's comments spurred fears that vaccine resistance could lead to more sickness and hospitalisations.

Mr Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview: "I think (the effectiveness) is going to be a material drop. I just don't know how much because we need to wait for the data.

"But all the scientists I have talked to... are like, 'This is not going to be good'."

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said the Omicron variant carries a "very high" risk of infection surges.

Mr Bancel had earlier said on CNBC there should be more clarity on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines against Omicron in two weeks, and it could take months to begin shipping a vaccine that works against it.

The WHO and scientists have said it could take days to weeks to understand the level of severity of the variant and its potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines.

"Vaccination will likely still keep you out of the hospital," said Dr John Wherry, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology in Philadelphia.

The uncertainty has triggered global alarm, with border closures casting a shadow over a nascent economic recovery from a two-year pandemic.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals' antibody cocktail, and similar drugs, could be less effective against Omicron, the company saidyesterday.

Vaccine-makers are already preparing for a situation where their current vaccines are less effective against the new variant, with companies announcing that they had begun work on vaccines tailored for Omicron.

The University of Oxford said yesterday there was no evidence that vaccines would not prevent severe disease from Omicron, but it was ready to rapidly develop an updated version of its vaccine developed with AstraZeneca.

"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.

"However, we have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated vaccine if it should be necessary." - REUTERS

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