BioNTech boss sees the need for vaccine adjustments

Status: December 3rd, 2021 4:48 p.m.

BioNTech boss Sahin expects in view of the strongly mutated Omikron variant that the vaccine against Corona will have to be adapted. The previous one still protects against severe gradients.

BioNTech boss Ugur Sahin expects that the existing vaccine against Sars-CoV-2 will have to be adapted to the new Omikron mutant. Nevertheless, according to the entrepreneur, the current vaccine should continue to offer protection against severe courses. “I basically believe that we will need a new vaccine against this new variant from a certain point in time,” said Sahin today at the “Reuters Next” conference.

The question is not whether, but when this new vaccine against the strongly mutated Omicron variant will be needed. He had already made a similar statement a few days ago.

What is an “escape variant”?

Variants such as the omicron mutant of the corona virus are caused by mutations. All viruses are constantly mutating; thus they adapt to the host and the conditions. Such mutations arise randomly and can affect the transmissibility or the immune defense of the host.

In the case of so-called escape variants (the English word “escape” means “escape”), the mutated virus variant partially or, in the worst case, completely evades the vaccine. Neutralizing antibodies attach to certain points on the spike protein. If these docking sites change, however, the antibodies can no longer attach there and fight off the virus. As a result, both vaccinated people and genesis can get sick with the new variant.

However, since the human immune system has a triple line of defense – consisting of antibodies, phagocytes and T cells – in most cases there is still protection against the severe course of the disease. Because even if the virus overcomes the antibodies, in the further course of the immune defense, first the scavenger cells and then the T cells switch on and prevent the pathogen from spreading further. It is unlikely that an escape variant will overcome all three lines of defense in the human immune system.

Surprised by the pace of mutations

According to the BioNTech founder, the Omikron could develop into an antibody escape variant. “This means that this variant may be able to infect people who have been vaccinated,” said Sahin. There will be more clarity on this in the coming weeks.

He himself was surprised by the speed of the mutations in the corona virus: “This highly mutated virus came earlier than I expected. I had expected it sometime next year, and it is already with us.” However, Sahin also pointed out that people who would have already received their third vaccination may be protected not only against severe courses, but against any kind of disease for a certain period of time.

Research is already being carried out into adapting the vaccines

BioNTech announced at the end of last week that it would be testing the new variant of the coronavirus detected in southern Africa in the laboratory. The company wants to find out how well its vaccine works against it. Together with its US partner Pfizer, the Mainz-based manufacturer claims to have started preparations a few months ago to be able to adapt the previous vaccine in the event of mutations.

The company announced that the vaccine could be adapted within six weeks and the first batches delivered within 100 days. To do this, they want to develop a standard procedure that can always take effect in the event of mutations. Clinical studies with variant-specific vaccines have been started to collect data on safety and tolerability. In the event of an adjustment, these could be presented to the authorities as sample data.

Similar announcements were made by Moderna. Stephane Bancel, head of the vaccine manufacturer, also assumes that the current vaccine will be less effective against the new variant. Moderna also recently started developing a revised vaccine.

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