BioNTech Founder: Omicron Unlikely to Cause Severe Cases

Ugur Sahin says vaccinated people should have protection against new variant
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2021 11:36 AM CST
BioNTech Founder Confident on Warding Off Severe Cases
Passengers wait at a bus stop in London.   (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

(Newser) – The seesawing of sentiment on the omicron variant continues. The co-founder of BioNTech, the company that partnered with Pfizer on a COVID vaccine, has weighed in with comments that are relatively optimistic. Ugur Sahin tells the Wall Street Journal that the company's existing vaccine should prevent serious illness among those who get the shots. "Our message is: Don't freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot," says Sahin. The comments came after the CEO of Moderna rattled world markets by predicting that current vaccines would be less effective against omicron, adding the line: "All the scientists I've talked to ... are like, 'This is not going to be good.'" The CEO of Pfizer said something similar, though he wasn't as pessimistic.

Either way, scientists say it could be about two weeks before they know more. Sahin is basing his optimism on the two-pronged strategy his company's vaccine employs. The first level of protection is antibodies, which work to ward off infection in the first place, explains the Journal. The second level involves T-cells, which mobilize to destroy infected cells if the first line of defense fails. "Our belief is rooted in science," says Sahin. "If a virus achieves immune escape, it achieves it against antibodies, but there is the second level of immune response that protects from severe disease—the T-cells." Both Pfizer and Moderna say a vaccine tweaked to counter omicron—if necessary—could be available in 100 days, reports STAT News. (Read more coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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