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The White House on Tuesday responded to concerns voiced by a Moderna executive who suggested the current vaccines slotted to fight the coronavirus will not be enough to counter the new omicron variant.
“It could go in a couple of different directions,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in reference to the lethality of omicron. “It could be less deadly, it could be more. We don’t know yet.
“We are not jumping to conclusions because we want to be clear with the American public about what we do and don’t know,” she added.
Psaki’s comments came just hours after Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel predicted that current vaccines – effective at fighting the beta and delta variants of the coronavirus – may not be effective in countering omicron.
In an interview with the Financial Times, Bancel said he did not envision a “world” in which the vaccine held the same effectiveness in fighting the latest variant as it did in combating the delta strain.
The Moderna head claimed to have spoken with other scientists who have said it’s “not going to be good.”
“I think it’s going to be a material drop,” he said. “I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data.”
Drug makers are still testing the effects of the vaccine on the recent variant and President Biden has said omicron is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic.”
Psaki echoed the president’s tone and said the best way to ward off the latest variant is still to get vaccinated.
“Here’s what we do know: getting vaccinated, getting boosted, means that you increase antibodies and you will have additional protection,” she told reporters on Air Force One Tuesday.
“If there’s a need for a changing, a tweaking of vaccine, getting that to the market – we will be prepared to do exactly that, but we are not at that point yet,” she continued. “We don’t know yet and we’re going to wait for the results and the analysis of health and medical experts.”
Bancel warned it could take several months for pharma companies to establish a vaccine effective enough to combat the omicron variant.
While the omicron variant is expected to bring with it a resurgence in cases, Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb, and former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, told CBS News this week that there’s “a pretty good degree of confidence” that with three doses of the coronavirus vaccine individuals will be protected against the latest variant.
“The most important thing we can do is get more people vaccinated,” Psaki said Tuesday. “We will continue to encourage other countries to get step up and do more to provide vaccine doses … to the global community.”