Fauci says US ‘preparing’ to update Covid vaccines but ‘might not have to’

US pharmaceutical manufacturers are “preparing” to update Covid-19 vaccines to respond to the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, but “may not have to”, White House chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci has said.

Dr Fauci,  a virologist who has served as director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease since the Reagan administration, told Meet the Press host Chuck Todd on Sunday that the decision on whether or not to revise formulation of the current Covid-19 vaccines will depend on whether researchers in South Africa — where Omicron was first identified — can determine the extent to which the current vaccines are effective against it.

“The critical questions now are do the antibodies block this well and what is the seriousness of the disease?” he said. “There are enough people right now in South Africa that our South African colleagues are following to determine is this highly transmissible but doesn’t really give us severe disease or does it give the kind of severity we’ve seen with Delta and the other variants”.

“All of these are gaps in our knowledge, and we are going to find out really quickly,” he added.

Dr Fauci also stressed that the mRNA and viral vector vaccines manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson and Johnson — the three that have received authorisation from the Food and Drug Administration — are easily modifiable to match a new variant.

At a June press conference with President Joe Biden, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said his company could have a revised Covid-19 vaccine ready for use within 100 days of identification of a new “escape variant” that could evade the current vaccines.

Vaccines such as Pfizer’s and Moderna’s use Messenger RNA technology, which can be quickly adapted to produce vaccines for new variants.

Last month, Moderna senior vice president and head of infectious disease research Jacquleline Miller told Nature that her company was submitting test cases using vaccines developed to block the Beta and Delta variants of SARS-CoV-2 to the Food and Drug Administration to “establish a process” by which new variant-specific vaccines could hit the streets faster.

“If there’s another strain that evolves those mutations in the future, we can capitalise on what we’ve already learned from studying the Beta variant,” she said.

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