3 things to expect on COVID vaccines this year, according to Moderna’s chief medical officer

Dr. Salma Elfaki holds a vial of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at

Despite early projections that the latest surge in coronavirus cases could end soon, the chief medical officer of pharmaceutical giant Moderna predicted on Thursday that the United States may still struggle with the Omicron version later this year, and Americans could benefit from an Omicron-compliant. Booster Shots.

Dr. Paul Burton told PBS NewsHour chief correspondent and substitute anchor Aamna Nawaz that this variant, which accounts for nearly all new infections in the US and dominates much of the world, disappeared after the current surge in cases subsided. Will not done.

“It’s up to us, as Moderna, to make sure we have a vaccine available that can cover Omicron as well as Delta and other variants,” Burton said.

Since November, when the World Health Organization alerted the global community about omicrons, this edition has forced countries to rethink not only their approaches to the pandemic and how they are responding, But why is it important to reach higher levels of vaccination around the world. to gain control.

Under Omicron, with no vaccine yet available for the youngest children, Burton said, “children ages 2 to 5 have been disproportionately affected and affected, and that’s not an absolute need.”

READ MORE: The nurse who authorized the first US COVID vaccine: ‘We can’t continue to live like this’

In the US, where vaccines first became available in December 2020, more than 100 million people remain unvaccinated and face the risk of serious illness, hospitalization, and death. (This week, roughly 2,200 people died every day due to Omicron infections, according to Dr. Rochelle Valensky, who directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.) In many countries around the world, the supply and access to vaccines still locked. While vaccine manufacturers, including Moderna, have donated hundreds of millions of doses around the world and made billions of dollars in profits.

Without widespread vaccine protection, experts say, the virus will continue to mutate and produce variants that may be more infectious than the omicron, and the pandemic will not end.

Here are three facts about how Moderna sees the challenges of developing vaccines for the youngest and most vulnerable populations in the US and around the world, and how Omicron is raising the stakes.

Don’t plan on saying goodbye to Omicron just yet.

This week, Moderna and Pfizer, both major producers of two-shot mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, began trials to develop an Omicron-specific booster.

In a paper published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, a team of researchers said the Omicron variant undermines the strength of the modern vaccine’s protection against the virus. Some experts have criticized the creation of a tailored vaccine, but Burton told Nawaz that the evidence supports the need for an Omicron-specific booster that may be available this fall because “Omicron is still going to be here.” Is.”

He added that the numbers – in cases, hospitalizations and deaths – may be small, but noted that, time and again, “this is a virus that can really revolutionize evolution and surprise us.” could.”

Moderna aims to submit vaccine data for young children in March.

In the US, children under the age of 5 are not yet eligible for the available COVID vaccines. Burton said the Moderna researchers plan to have the data ready for the Food and Drug Administration by March. At that point, federal regulators will need to examine the vaccine’s safety and efficacy data before deciding whether or not to authorize the vaccine for emergency use in some of the youngest children.

“The data we have in older children is very reassuring. It shows excellent effectiveness, so I would expect that,” he said.

In December, Pfizer said it needed to retest its dosage for younger children because clinical trials revealed insufficient protection against the virus in children between the ages of 2 and 5. Researchers are studying the efficacy of three doses instead of two in young children.

What Moderna is doing to increase the number of shots worldwide

In low-income countries, it is estimated that only one in 10 people have received their first vaccine dose – a much lower rate than in high-income countries.

Burton said Moderna will “continue to supply as many vaccines as it can” to low- and middle-income countries and “will expand manufacturing facilities in those countries as well.”

Read more: For countries with few doses of vaccine, fighting COVID-19 is ‘a race from behind’

For now, to help improve global vaccine access, Burton said Moderna has chosen not to apply its patent “during the pandemic phase” if “others want to produce the vaccine. ” But the company hasn’t gone so far as to waive the patent, allowing more countries to make their own life-saving vaccines. Detailing the reach of the vaccine at this point in the pandemic, Burton said local distribution played a greater role than companies making enough doses.

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