Moncef Slaoui, the former head of Trump’s Operation Warp Speed, is “cautiously hopeful” about existing vaccinations’ ability to protect against Omicron, the latest coronavirus type to cause worry. With roughly 30 mutations on its spike protein alone, has more alterations than prior variations. Virologists are concerned since the spike protein is used in vaccinations to “train” human bodies to detect the coronavirus. However, Slaoui, who spent decades in the pharmaceutical business researching vaccines before leading Operation Warp Speed’s scientific work, believes that even if vaccine-induced antibodies are less efficient against Omicron, other components of the immune response may still be helpful.
“It’s a race between how quickly the virus replicates and how quickly the immune system prepares to eradicate it,” he explains. Vaccines prepare the immune system and help it remember what it has learned. “Then, I believe, our ability to mount a quick immune response will always be available to eliminate the infection. Perhaps we will become ill for a day or two. Perhaps we have a cough. Perhaps we’re suffering from a fever. However, we will not be infected with a serious sickness.” The vaccines, according to Slaoui, do more than only stimulate the production of antibodies. They also create a biological response, which consists of B and T cells.
On Tuesday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told The Wall Street Journal that an Omicron-specific vaccine could be ready by March. Slaoui recalls discussing how to respond to novel variants with colleagues at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It will be critical to have pre-determined criteria for when we should resume immunising people. That trigger, according to him, is if the hospitalisation rate among those who have been vaccinated with a new variety is much greater than it was with the previous variant, because the vaccine is designed to minimise severe disease rather than prevent every occurrence of COVID-19.