Omicron-specific vaccine is coming but ‘may not matter—everybody’s going to be infected,’ says expert

An omicron-specific Covid vaccine will be ready by March but some experts warn it could be “too late” due to the variant’s highly transmissible nature.

On Monday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC that its vaccine with BioNTech that targets omicron — and other variants that are currently circulating — will be ready for distribution by spring and that the company has already started manufacturing doses.

But an omicron-targeted vaccine was needed in December, says Dr. William Moss, executive director of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It still could be valuable but I do think in many ways, it’s too late” for the current omicron wave, Moss says.

Dr. Shaun Truelove, an infectious disease epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, agrees: “Given how quickly this [variant] is happening, [the targeted vaccine] may not matter because everybody’s going to be infected,” says Truelove, a member of The Covid Scenario Modeling Hub, a team of researchers who make Covid projections.

The country has been seeing record Covid infections: More than 95% of reported Covid cases were due to the omicron variant as of early January, according to the CDC. On Sunday, over 307,000 new cases of Covid were reported, according to Johns Hopkins.

If an omicron-targeted vaccine had been available earlier, it “might have been sufficient to prevent some of these illnesses and better protect our workforce, particularly health care workers,” says Moss. “The assumption is that an omicron-specific booster would have high vaccine effectiveness against infection, at least temporarily, but this is not known.”

But the variant spread so quickly that vaccine developers could not make a targeted vaccine in time.

Pfizer CEO Bourla also said it is still not clear whether or not the new vaccine is needed or how it could be used.

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