A boy receives the first dose of a Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in Tegucigalpa, on September 25, 2021.
  • BioNTech said Monday it's already working on an "adapted" vaccine to combat the Omicron variant.
  • It is also continuing to test how well its existing vaccine works against the new variant. 
  • Scientists around the world are closely tracking Omicron after it emerged in southern Africa.
  • For more stories visit Business Insider.

BioNTech said Monday it's already started developing a new Covid-19 vaccine that aims to combat the Omicron variant.

The German biotechnology company, which partners with US giant Pfizer on Covid-19 vaccines, told Insider it had initiated "the development of an adapted vaccine" for Omicron to allow it to "move forward quickly."

Scientists and health officials around the world are closely tracking Omicron, or B.1.1.529, which was first detected in southern Africa. Public health experts say the new variant contains signs of being more transmissible or dangerous than other strains of the disease.

The World Health Organization labeled Omicron a "variant of concern" on Friday, though officials have stressed that relatively little is known about the variant at this stage.

Moderna, which also makes a Covid-19 vaccine, said Sunday that it expects to have a new version of its shot available by early 2022, and that it should know whether its current vaccine has sufficient protection in the next two weeks.

The BioNTech spokesperson said: "We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations on the omicron variant (B.1.1.529) as well as the development of an adapted vaccine as part of our standard procedure for new variants."

They added: "The first steps of developing a potential new vaccine overlap with the research necessary in order to evaluate whether a new shot will be needed. The objective of this approach, which was initiated last Thursday, is to move forward quickly if a variant-specific vaccine is needed."

The BioNTech spokesperson continued: "We expect data from the laboratory tests in about two weeks. These data will provide more information about whether B.1.1.529 could be an escape variant that may require an adjustment of our vaccine if the variant spreads globally."

Pfizer and BioNTech took actions months ago to be able to adapt the mRNA vaccine within 6 weeks and ship initial batches within 100 days in the event of an escape variant. To that end, the companies have begun clinical trials with variant-specific vaccines (beta and delta) to collect safety and tolerability data that can be provided to regulators.

BioNTech said Friday it would be able to ship out new versions of its Covid-19 vaccine within 100 days if a new variant presented itself.

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