BioNTech says it could produce and ship an updated version of its vaccine within 100 days if the new Covid variant detected in southern Africa is found to evade existing immunity.
The biotechnology company is already investigating whether the vaccine it developed with Pfizer works well against the variant, named Omicron, which has caused concern due to its high number of mutations and initial suggestions that it could be transmitting more quickly.
The company says it will know in two weeks whether its current vaccine is likely to be sufficiently effective against the B.1.1.529 variant, based on lab-based experiments.
If required, BioNTech said it is poised to tweak its vaccine to match it more closely to the new variant.
“Pfizer and BioNTech have taken actions months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within six weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant,” the company said in a statement.
Other vaccine teams, including Johnson & Johnson, also confirmed on Friday that they were testing the effectiveness of their vaccines against the new variant to assess whether updates were likely to be required. AstraZeneca said it is already conducting research in Botswana and Eswatini, where the variant has been identified, to collect real-world data on how the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine performs against the new variant.