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Will there be a specific vaccine for the Omicron variant soon?

Clinical trials of a variant-specific covid-19 vaccines for Omicron have begun but the surge may be over before they can be available to the public.

Pfizer and BioNTech have begun clinical trials of their variant-specific covid-19 vaccine for Omicron but the surge may be over before it can be rolled out.

The covid-19 virus has been keeping the public and health officials on their toes as it mutates becoming more effective at spreading. The latest variant to dominate in the US and several other parts of the globe, Omicron, has sent cases numbers to their highest levels yet of the nearly two-year-long pandemic.

Pfizer and BioNTech as well as Moderna have been working on Omicron-specific vaccines which they recently announced have gone into clinical trials. The CEO of Pfizer expects his company to be able to roll out the new vaccine in March, but with infections from Omicron dissipating as fast as they rose will the variant-specific vaccine be of use?

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Omicron-specific vaccine could be "an insurance policy"

Although the Omicron variant has been causing less severe illness than the Delta variant, it is much more transmissible. This has led to the US experiencing an unprecedented surge in cases with an average of over 804,000 new daily cases at its peak in mid-January according to CDC data. Even though case numbers are dropping precipitously they are still far above last winter's peak. Nor is the US or the world out of the clutches of covid-19.

Omicron is the fifth variant of concern since September 2020 and health officials are expecting more variants to pop up. This is why even if case numbers drop to new lows having another weapon in the fight against covid-19 such as the Omicron-specific vaccine will come in handy.

John Moore, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Weill Cornell Medical College, told NBC News that in a "worst-case scenario" where the Omicron variant mutates becoming as lethal as the Delta variant the variant-specific shots that Pfizer and Moderna are testing could become important. According to Moore the new clinical trials could be seen as "an insurance policy."

Researchers are working toward a pan-coronavirus vaccine

At a recent press briefing by White House covid-⁠19 Response Team Dr Fauci spoke of research into finding innovative approaches “to induce broad and durable protection against coronaviruses” both known and unknown. “The NIH, particularly NIAID, has invested a little bit more than $3 billion overall on coronavirus research since the pandemic began,” he said.

Finding a pan-coronavirus vaccine for the whole of the coronavirus phylogenetic tree would be “unreasonable” in Dr Fauci’s opinion. However, focusing on some of the subsets, in particular the SARS-CoV-2, which includes covid-19, and the rest of sarbecovirus would be feasible.

However, Dr Fauci warned that pan-coronavirus vaccines are still a long way off. “It’s going to take years to develop in an incremental fashion,” he said.


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