The new coronavirus variant B.1.1.529 alias Omikron has raised many questions - very few have been answered so far, due to a lack of scientific studies.

Is the mutation really more dangerous than any previous one?

Could be, according to the current status, but corresponding tests are still pending.

The Robert Koch Institute knows that the SARS-CoV-2 variant classified by the World Health Organization as "worrying" contains an unusually high number of around 30 amino acid changes in the spike protein - the part that is necessary for penetration into human cells is responsible and where the vaccines start.

The changes in the "sting" also include those with a known phenotypic influence: characteristics such as increased transferability or undermining of the immune system.

However, there are currently no experimental studies that confirm these possible influences, the RKI stated on Friday.

Data on aspects such as virulence or the effectiveness of vaccines are not yet available.

At the moment, of course, the vaccine producers are feverishly examining the point that concerns them.

The vaccine manufacturers want to provide answers quickly

Whether BioNTech or Moderna, AstraZeneca or Novavax - they are all currently trying to answer the question that concerns everyone who has been vaccinated: How well does the protection against Omikron work?

And what has to be changed in the existing vaccine?

AstraZeneca has started testing in countries in southern Africa, including Botswana and Swaziland, to see how its vaccine Vaxzevria protects against the new variant.

The company from Great Britain is confident.

"Vaxzevria has been shown to be effective against all previous variants of SARS-CoV-2 and against Covid-19, both in clinical tests with up to 60,000 participants and through evidence from the real world with hundreds of thousands of people vaccinated in more than 170 countries" a spokesman announced.

In addition to the vaccine, the British company is also testing its antibody drug against corona diseases for effectiveness with a view to the new virus variant.

mRNA vaccines are flexible, the manufacturers emphasize

The manufacturers of mRNA vaccines have already pointed out the advantages of their technology in the past.

The Mainz-based manufacturer BioNTech, for example, emphasizes that the vaccines can easily be adapted to new variants.

The company has already started a review of its Comirnaty vaccine and will adjust it if necessary.

The first results should be available in two weeks at the latest.

BioNTech's American competitor Moderna is also working hard on relevant investigations.

Hundreds of employees, according to medical director Paul Burton, started working on a corresponding adaptation of the corona vaccine right after the first publications about the mutant on Thanksgiving, which is usually celebrated in the USA, on last Thursday.

Burton said in a BBC interview it will take a few more weeks to have reliable knowledge about how much the new corona variant eludes the effect of the current vaccines and whether a new vaccine has to be produced.

If so, he reckons that this could be manufactured on a large scale in early 2022.

Moderna advances three lines of defense

Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel refers to the company's multi-track strategy: “We have three lines of defense that we are advancing.” First, a higher-dose booster of the Moderna vaccine mRNA-1273 - known as Spikevax - was evaluated.

Second, examine booster candidates that are designed to anticipate mutations such as the omicron variant.

In addition, one can make rapid progress with an omicron-specific booster candidate called mRNA-1273.529. Other corporations are also in the process of testing the effectiveness of their vaccines with a view to Omikron. The pharmaceutical offshoot of Johnson & Johnson, Janssen, is examining whether its own vaccine, which is also approved in the EU, protects against the new corona variant. The Novavax company is said to have started developing a variant of its own vaccine adapted to Omikron.

What does all this mean for worried vaccinated and non-vaccinated people? One should not wait with the vaccination or the booster, one can hear mostly. It can be assumed that the available vaccines still offer a high level of protection against hospitalization and death, says Roman Wölfel, head of the Bundeswehr Institute for Microbiology in Munich.

Richard Neher, head of the research group Evolution of Viruses and Bacteria at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel, is also confident in this regard: “Since the vaccines are efficient against all previous variants, I assume that this variant is also vaccinated against.

The T cell response in particular should be robust to the changes.

However, it is quite conceivable that there will be more breakthrough infections, making a third dose all the more important. "

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