COVID: New Omicron-specific vaccines are in the works, but do we need them?

New booster vaccines that target the Omicron variant are being trialled by both Pfizer and Moderna, but whether we really need them or not is still unclear.

Omicron variant
Omicron variant

The Omicron variant has completely changed the course of the pandemic by spreading at a rate that has never been seen before with the previous mutations. It has triggered massive waves of infection in several countries, forcing pharmaceutical companies to figure out their next move to combat the dangerous variant.

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Omicron vaccines

Pharmaceutical giants, Pfizer and Moderna, have both been working on booster jabs that they say are specific to the Omicron variant. On Monday (10 January), CEO of Pfizer, Albert Bourla announced that the company has been producing a vaccine that has been ‘redesigned’ to target the Omicron variant and that it could be out in the public as early as March. He announced while talking to CNBC’s Squawk Box:

This vaccine will be ready in March. We (are) already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk.

Moderna has also been testing its very own Omicron-specific booster vaccine that could potentially be rolled out during the fall season of 2022 in an attempt to ‘stay ahead of the virus.’ CEO Stéphane Bancel, who also spoke on Squawk Box, said:

We are discussing with public health leaders around the world to decide what we think is the best strategy for the potential booster for the fall of 2022. We believe it will contain omicron.
We need to be careful to try to stay ahead of a virus and not behind the virus.

Are they really necessary?

Now that many governments have begun rolling out a third booster vaccine, and a fourth in Israel, it remains to be seen if we really require yet another dose that is specific to the Omicron variant. Dr. Bourla agreed that more examinations had to be done to clarify the need for such a vaccine but he also said that should the situation demand for it, Pfizer will be ready.

Meanwhile, a technical body from the World Health Organization (WHO) said that it may be necessary to rework current vaccines to target Omicron and other new emerging variants. They said in a statement on 11 January, as quoted by Reuters:

The composition of current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs (variants of concern), including Omicron and future variants.
Omicron: Are current vaccines effective against the new COVID variant? Omicron: Are current vaccines effective against the new COVID variant?