Omicron Update: First French, Japanese Cases; Moderna CEO Says Current Vax Are Probably Not Going To Be As Effective; Tests Suggest That Regeneron, Lilly Antibody Cocktails Not As Effective; and African Union, Other Groups Say Vaccine Equity, Distribution Need Fixing

Japan, France confirm first cases

French authorities confirmed that the first case of omicron variant occurred in the French island territory of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, the Associated Press reported. A 53-year-old man who had traveled to Mozambique tested possible for the variant. Japan also confirmed its first case in someone who had visited Nambia.

Pfizer science chief: Omicron vaccine ready in less than 100 days

Michael Dolsten, Pfizer’s chief science officer, told Stat that an omicron-focused vaccine could be ready in less than 100 days. Stat said it was unclear whether the omicron-tailored booster would need to be tested in a separate trial or whether it might get the go ahead from the FDA based on studies of the beta and delta variants.

Moderna CEO: Current vaccines won’t be as protective against omicron

In an interview with the Financial Times, Moderna CEO Stephane said the current versions of the COVID vaccines will need to be modified to protect against the omicron variant. “There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant],” Bancel told the newspaper. “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like, ‘This is not going to be good’.”


Regeneron, Lilly antibody cocktails may not be as effective

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that Regeneron says early tests of its Covid-19 antibody drug cocktail, REGEN-COV (casirivimab and imdevimab), lose effectiveness against the omicron variant.

The newspaper also reported that researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have found that individual mutations in omicron thwart the attaching properties of both Regeneron’s REGEN-COV and Lilly’s antibody combination, etesevimab and bamlanivimab.

More tests of the drugs against the entire omicron variant are needed to fully understand the impact, Allie Greaney, a Ph.D. candidate at Fred Hutchinson and the University of Washington in Seattle, told the Journal.

Equity, distribution problems in Africa

The emergence of omicron in southern Africa has highlighted the issue of vaccine equity. Rich countries in Europe and North America have been accused of hoarding vaccine while large proportions of the populations of African countries are unvaccinated.

The way vaccines have been distributed is also a problem. According to a joint statement issued Monday by several groups involved in African vaccination, 90 million donated doses have been delivered so to the continent via COVAX, a COVID-19 vaccination equity effort led by a coalition of organizations, and African Vaccine Acquisition Trust, an organization set up by the African Union as a purchasing agent for COVID-19 vaccines for the organization’s member states.

“However,” the statement says, “the majority of the donations to-date have been ad hoc, provided with little notice and short shelf lives. This has made it extremely challenging for countries to plan vaccination campaigns and increase absorptive capacity.”