Pharmaceutical companies announced plans Friday to test their COVID-19 vaccines' efficacy against the newly designated Omicron variant of the virus.
The World Health Organization named the strain, which originated in South Africa, as a "variant of concern" Friday as nations across the globe announced plans to limit travel from several countries on the African continent.
The agency's technical advisory group said it has a large number of mutations that make it "concerning."
Moderna, which is based in Cambridge, Mass., said the new variant includes a "significant potential risk" to natural and vaccine-inducted immunity to COVID-19.
"The company is working rapidly to test the ability of the current vaccine dose to neutralize the Omicron variant and data is expected in the coming weeks," the company said.
Moderna said it's also testing a higher dose of its mRNA vaccine against the Omicron variant, as well as two multi-valent booster candidates that were designed to anticipate mutations. It's also testing an Omicron-specific booster candidate.
"The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant," Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel said.
Pfizer-BioNTech said they're also investigating its COVID-19 vaccine's efficacy against the new variant and expects to have results in no more than two weeks, CNBC reported. The companies said they can adapt their mRNA vaccine within six weeks and begin shipping out new batches within 100 days if needed.
"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," the companies said.
Newsweek reported that an escape variant is one that can avoid the protections of existing vaccines.
Johnson & Johnson said it's also testing its single-dose viral vector vaccine.
"We are closely monitoring newly emerging COVID-19 virus strains with variations of the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein and are already testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new and rapidly spreading variant first detected in Southern Africa," Clare Boyle, a J&J spokeswoman, told CNN in a statement.
And AstraZeneca said it and Oxford University's vaccine platform allows for quick adaptations for mutations.
"AstraZeneca is also already conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified, namely in Botswana and Eswatini," the company said.
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