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‘Don’t freak out’ over omicron, says chief of coronavirus vaccine maker BioNTech

BioNTech company founder Ugur Sahin talks at the topping-out ceremony for the new BioNTech “iNeST” production facility in Mainz, Germany, on Dec. 1. (Frank Rumpenhorst/AP)

The head of BioNTech, coronavirus vaccine partner to pharmaceutical company Pfizer, has a message for people amid the emergence of the omicron variant: Don’t panic.

Ugur Sahin, chief executive and co-founder of Germany-based BioNTech, told the Wall Street Journal in an interview that the companies’ vaccine had proved effective against severe covid-19, and he assumed that such protection would continue even with the omicron variant.

“Our message is: Don’t freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot,” Sahin said Tuesday.

How the omicron variant unsettled the world in just one week: A visual timeline

Although it is possible that omicron may prove better than the delta variant at evading antibodies, Sahin said, it is too early to say whether the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine would need to be adjusted. Billions of doses have been administered globally.

“Whether or not we will need extra protection by an adapted vaccine, this remains to be seen, later,” Sahin said.

This is a notably different tone from that taken by Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel, who on Tuesday predicted “a material drop” in protection by existing vaccines at combating omicron compared with previous variants of the virus. “All the scientists I’ve talked to … [say], ‘This is not going to be good,’ ” he said.

Existing vaccines might not be as effective against omicron variant, Moderna CEO says

Bancel told the Financial Times that it would take months for pharmaceutical companies to manufacture variant-specific doses to address omicron, as public health officials and vaccine makers worldwide hasten to examine the impact of the largely unknown variant.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which makes a popular antibody cocktail used as a treatment for covid-19 patients, also warned this week that the therapy could be less effective against the omicron variant.

World agrees to negotiate a global ‘pandemic treaty’ to fight the next outbreak

However, World Health Organization officials in Europe said Wednesday that there was no evidence so far to suggest that vaccines would be less effective against omicron.

They also said it was more likely that vaccine makers would need to adjust rather than overhaul existing vaccines to combat the omicron variant.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

The latest: The CDC has loosened many of its recommendations for battling the coronavirus, a strategic shift that puts more of the onus on individuals, rather than on schools, businesses and other institutions, to limit viral spread.

Variants: BA.5 is the most recent omicron subvariant, and it’s quickly become the dominant strain in the U.S. Here’s what to know about it, and why vaccines may only offer limited protection.

Vaccines: Vaccines: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 12 and older get an updated coronavirus booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant circulating now. You’re eligible for the shot if it has been at least two months since your initial vaccine or your last booster. An initial vaccine series for children under 5, meanwhile, became available this summer. Here’s what to know about how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections and booster history.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. The omicron variant is behind much of the recent spread.

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