Virologists and immunologists say the emergence of the highly changed Omicron strain serves as a reminder of the need for vaccinations that are less susceptible to the coronavirus’s rapid changes. The bulk of the first-generation COVID-19 vaccine targets spike proteins on the outer surface of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is used to infect human cells.

Omicron Is A Wake-Up Call For COVID-19 Vaccine Developers

Over 30 mutations have been found on Omicron’s spike alone, causing scientists to worry about its potential danger.

Omicron Is A Wake-Up Call For COVID-19 Vaccine Developers

Researchers are trying to figure out whether Omicron can get through existing immunizations or previous infections as a defense. The fast evolution of the virus calls for vaccines that target parts of the virus that are less likely to change, even if current immunizations continue to be effective. As a consequence of Omicron, a virologist at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, Dr. Larry Corey, who oversees the US government-funded COVID-19 immunization studies, said the virus is not going away. Improved vaccines are urgently needed.

Since the pandemic started, the coronavirus has undergone many modifications, including the emergence of the more transmissible and widely distributed Delta form. In spite of this, the COVID-19 vaccines have primarily maintained their ability to protect people from severe illness and death since they were first introduced in 1996. “The current COVID-19 vaccinations are excellent as quick response tools,” stated Richard Hatchett, CEO of the International Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), which has funded numerous COVID-19 vaccines. Hatchett praised the existing COVID-19 vaccinations, saying they are “excellent as quick reaction tools.”

Long-term risk management will need more time and money. Vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses in the same family, such as MERS and SARS, are being developed by CEPI, which sought $200 million in financing in March. Hatchett is a firm believer in investing even though the future is hard to predict. At the media Next conference on Friday, WHO chief scientist SoumyaSwaminathan said that next-generation vaccines must protect people. 

According to Swaminathan, a lot of work is being put into helping with this kind of study and development. When most top COVID-19 vaccines target just the spike protein regions that trigger strong immune responses, it suggests the potential of infection prevention at an early stage. For example, mRNA vaccines have shown a 95% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19, much above the scientific community’s expectations. The developers, Pfizer, and its German partners, BioNTech and Moderna, have reaped billions of euros in extra revenue and value as a consequence of its success.

Compared to other versions, which target specific genes inside the SARS-CoV-2 virus, Chinese manufacturers Sinovac Biotech and state-owned Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccines are exceptions. Such vaccines seemed to have a short-lived effect on antibody levels, and this protection may be limited in the elderly.

In October, Valneva, a French biotech firm, claimed that their vaccine was more successful than AstraZeneca’s, which targets the spike protein since it used an inactivated form of the whole SARS-CoV-2 virus. Valneva’s vaccine was determined to be the only one of seven evaluated to have no effect on immunity when given after two doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in the United Kingdom. The EU’s drug authorities are now testing Valneva’s vaccine.