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Moderna could have a vaccine booster shot targeting the Omicron variant ready for authorisation by March, says company president Stephen Hoge.
The jab would contain genes specifically targeting the mutations from the new variant and would be the quickest way to target any reduction in vaccine efficacy.
Hoges told the Financial Times he believes existing vaccines will be less effective against Omicron than they have been against Delta, but believes it will take two weeks to get data supporting the theory.
The company has already begun work on the new booster, as well as on a multi-valent vaccine which would include up to four different variants, including Omicron.
BREAKING: Malaysia confirms first one case of Omicron variant of coronavirus#COVID19 pic.twitter.com/ftVpeWurDE
- Elill (@Elill_E) December 3, 2021
"We've already started that program," he told Reuters.
That vaccine could take several months, he said.
There have been multiple cases of the strain in Australia from people who have arrived into the country, however there have also been infections from people who haven't travelled.
The discovery marks the first case of community transmitted Omicron in Australia, but Health Minister Brad Hazzard urged people not to panic.
New Omicron case confirmed in NSW pic.twitter.com/yGu07JCL8U
- NSW Health (@NSWHealth) December 2, 2021
"The positive side is we are not seeing what we saw in the other variants, we're not seeing people suddenly being rushed to hospital," he said.
"What we're seeing is people who are either asymptomatic or have very mild symptoms, generally."
The variant was first reported in Africa, leading to a number of countries closing travel borders to the region, but experts have now said it's likely Omicron has been present for longer than originally thought.
Nine cases in Scotland have been connected to a private event held on November 20, none of which had travelled to South Africa recently, and two tests taken in the Netherlands between the 19th and 23rd of November have also shown evidence of the virus.
It's now clear Omicron was already circulating in the US weeks ago, before it was identified in South Africa and travel bans were instituted.
What's less clear is why the punitive and purposeless travel bans are still in place. Rescind them. And thank the South Africa scientists https://t.co/H8DDM6IM6p
- Craig Spencer MD MPH (@Craig_A_Spencer) December 2, 2021
This occurred before border closures and before the variant was reported by South Africa.
At least 24 countries have now reported cases of omicron and the World Health Organisation (WHO) expects that number to grow.
WHO has urged people to continue getting vaccinated and stick to safety precautions that have worked to slow the spread of Covid-19 so far.
"It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta," the organisation said.
"There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants."
"Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death."