Moderna’s stock drops. The Omicron image becomes slightly less blurry.
Less than two weeks after South African authorities alerted the world to the appearance of the heavily mutated Omicron, key questions about the variant remain unanswered. What became increasingly clear over the weekend is that experts believe the variant will spread quickly across the world, and the makers of messenger RNA vaccines are not convinced that current versions of their vaccines will fully protect against it.
Speaking on ABC This week with George Stephanopoulos on Sunday,
(ticker: MRNA) President Dr Stephen Hoge said there is a “real risk that we will see a decrease in vaccine effectiveness” because of Omicron, but he doesn’t know “how important that will be.”
Moderna stock fell 15% on Monday afternoon.
It is not yet clear from the data whether currently approved vaccines work against the variant or whether Omicron is more or less lethal than earlier strains of the virus.
The comments were less pessimistic than those made by Hoge’s colleague, CEO Stéphane Bancel, in an interview with the Financial Times early last week that rocked the stock market.
Moderna said she was developing an Omicron-specific booster of her vaccine. Hoge said, however, that manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. “We could probably produce tens of millions of doses in the first trimester, but not hundreds,” Hoge said. “And it wouldn’t really be until the second quarter of next year that you would see these big changes in terms of the number of doses taken.”
In an interview with Barron Released on Friday, Dr Peter Marks, a senior official responsible for the Covid-19 vaccine review at the Food and Drug Administration, presented a possible timeline that could have updated vaccine plans entering the guns in the United States by April, if Omicron-specific boosters are needed.
Companies are already performing various tests to determine if their vaccines will work against Omicron.
(PFE) told Cowen analyst Steve Scala that the results of his first lab test, which challenges the vaccine with what is called a pseudovirus, will be followed a week or two later by tests of the vaccine against the real virus. Results of both tests should be available by the end of the month, the company noted.
“PFE predicts that the results of these studies will be neither black nor white, but that there may be some degree of ambiguity,” the Cowen analyst wrote in a note released Monday. Pfizer told Scala it could produce one billion doses of the updated vaccine per quarter.
Meanwhile, major questions about the pathogenicity of Omicron remain unanswered. “So far there doesn’t appear to be a great degree of seriousness,” President Biden’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told CNN. State of the Union on Sunday. “But we really have to be careful before making decisions that [Omicron] is less serious or does not actually cause any serious illness comparable to Delta. “
European health authorities have said that the European Union and the European Economic Area so far have a total of 182 Omicron cases, all asymptomatic or of mild severity, with no deaths. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control in the European Union, however, warned that the number of cases was still too low to determine whether the disease caused by Omicron was of a different severity than that caused by other strains.
“Given the pace of Omicron’s spread, it’s hard to imagine anyone in South Africa escaping the infection over the next few months, and assuming the inevitable in terms of infection events already documented in outside of South Africa it only seems a matter of time (weeks) before thousands of cases are confirmed in other countries around the world, ”writes SVB Leerink analyst Dr Geoffrey Porges, in a note published on Monday.
Porges wrote that, so far, the early evidence for the pathogenicity of the variant remains encouraging. “It appears that hospitalizations are not increasing as much as the increase in the number of diagnoses” in South Africa, Porges wrote. “All of this may not mean much – these observations are still very early in the latest wave of infections, and the disease pattern could easily change with more time from the initial diagnosis of the infection.”
Still, investors seemed to be finding solace on Monday morning. The
Dow Jones Industrial Average
increased by 1.4% and 0.6% respectively.
More information on Omicron is expected to arrive in the coming weeks. And if last week’s roller coaster is any guide, investors could expect a checkered end to the year.
Write to Josh Nathan-Kazis at [email protected]