Vaccine companies begin work to produce doses of the Omicron mutant

Biontech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson said Monday that they are working to produce vaccines that specifically target the new mutated coronavirus (Omicron) in the event that their currently available vaccines are ineffective with it.

The emergence of the new mutation led to a strong global response, with countries around the world concerned about the possibility of its rapid spread, and some countries imposed travel and other restrictions.

Biontech said it has begun work on a vaccine for Omicron with its partner Pfizer.

Meanwhile, Stéphane Bancel, Moderna's CEO, told CNBC that it could take months to start shipping such a vaccine from the company.

He added that the effectiveness of the currently available anti-Covid-19 vaccines against the new mutant is not known now, and indicated that things will become clearer in about two weeks.

Johnson & Johnson is also evaluating the efficacy of its COVID-19 vaccine against Omicron, while continuing to work on a vaccine for the new mutant.

"We have begun work to design and develop a new vaccine against Omicron and will rapidly introduce it to clinical research if needed," said Mathai Maman, head of Johnson & Johnson's Pharmaceutical Research Unit.

One of South Africa's top infectious disease experts said Omicron appeared to be more contagious than previous mutants, including for people who were immune to vaccination or had previously contracted the disease.

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