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Amid concerns over the potentially highly-transmissible new Covid variant, Moderna Inc. Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton has said that he suspects the new omicron variant may elude current vaccines, and if that is the case, a reformulated vaccine shot could be available early in the new year.  

“We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks," Burton said.

“If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities," he said. “The remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, the Moderna platform, is that we can move very fast," he said.  

The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based biotech company mobilized “hundreds" of staff early on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., after news of the omicron variant spread. 

Protection should still exist, depending on how long ago a person was vaccinated, and for now the best advice is to take one of the current Covid-19 vaccines, Burton added.

“If people are on the fence, and you haven’t been vaccinated, get vaccinated," he said. “This is a dangerous looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to fight it."  

The emergence of the omicron strain has seen countries rush to clamp down on travel from southern Africa. Fears that it could exacerbate a winter Covid surge in the northern hemisphere and undermine a global economic recovery sent a wave of risk aversion across global markets Friday that continued Sunday when the Middle East opened for the week. 

Moderna said in a release on Friday that it was working rapidly to test the current vaccine against the omicron variant, and studying two booster candidates.  

“Since early 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy to anticipate new variants of concern," the company said. “The company has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to advance new candidates to clinical testing in 60 to 90 days." 

Meanwhile, South Africa's top health federation on Sunday slammed the 18 nations which have imposed travel bans on the country on fears of the new potentially highly-transmissible variant of Covid-19, Omicron, saying the world must avoid such "knee-jerk reaction" if it wants "transparency" in the sharing of critical medical data.

The new Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529, first detected in South Africa, was on Friday designated as a “Variant of Concern" by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which named it ‘Omicron’.

The decision by 18 countries to ban flights to and from South Africa was premature, as there is still not enough information on how dangerous the variant might be, Angelique Coetzee, Chairman of South African Medical Association (SAMA) said.

Coetzee also defended the decision to announce the findings, pointing out that South Africa should be lauded and not vilified for this.

(With inputs from agencies)

 

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