Moderna CEO says fall boosters may target omicron

The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine is ready to distribute over-the-counter rapid Covid-19 test kits to people receiving the vaccine or booster for free on January 7, 2022 at Union Station in Los Angeles, California.

Frederick J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

Moderna is working on a booster injection of the omicron variant of Covid this fall, as countries around the world are preparing to distribute annual vaccinations against the virus.

“We are in discussions with public health leaders around the world to determine the best strategy we see as a potential booster in the fall of 2022. We believe it will include omicron,” CEO Stephane Bancel told CNBC’s Squawk Box.

Bancel said that omicron specific boosters will soon enter clinical trials, and Moderna is discussing whether the vaccine needs to contain any other ingredients to fight the virus.

Bansell said: “We need to be cautious and try to stay ahead of the virus, not behind it.”

Moderna has signed advanced purchase agreements worth US$18.5 billion with the United Kingdom, South Korea and Switzerland, and recently ordered lenses for this fall. Bancel stated that Moderna can provide 2 to 3 billion doses of booster this year.

“Discussions are taking place every day. We hope to prepare for the best products in the fall of 22,” Bansell said.

According to a recent study by the UK Health and Safety Agency, real-world data from the UK show that boosters are as effective as 75% in preventing symptomatic omicron infections.

Studies have shown that, on the other hand, the first two doses of Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccine are only about 10% effective in preventing symptomatic infections 20 weeks after the second dose. However, the first two doses still provide good protection against serious diseases.

The world is currently suffering from an unprecedented wave of infections caused by omicron, which has dozens of mutations that allow it to avoid the immune protection caused by the original injection. According to the World Health Organization, omicron is spreading faster than any other variant of the virus before it.

The WHO has set a goal of vaccinating 70% of the population in each country by the middle of this year. Global health agencies have been criticizing wealthy countries for launching a broad booster campaign, urging world leaders to concentrate on ensuring that as many people as possible across the world, especially low-income countries, receive the initial injection.

Bancel stated that vaccine supply was restricted for most of 2021, but that is no longer the case. The main challenge now is to distribute, or actually put these shots into people’s arms. Bancel stated that Moderna has 50 million to 100 million doses of drugs waiting to be shipped to low-income countries on any given day in November.

“There are many problems with the distribution and deployment of these vaccines,” Bansell said.

The CEO of Moderna stated that the African Union has decided to reject the company’s 60 million doses reserved for the African continent in the second quarter.

“The reason lies in the Covax order, European donations, Chinese donations, and US government donations. They need more vaccines to reach the 70% vaccination rate in these countries,” Bansell said.

Covax is an international initiative led by the World Health Organization and the Alliance for Epidemic Prevention Innovation. It aims to accelerate the manufacture and development of Covid vaccines and guarantee equal opportunities for all countries in the world.