Vials labeled “Moderna, AstraZeneca, Pfizer – Biontech, Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik V Coronavirus Vaccine (COVID-19)” can be seen in this illustrative photo taken on May 2, 2021. REUTERS / Dado Ruvic / Illustration

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Jan. 11 (Reuters) – The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that more research is needed to find out whether existing COVID-19 vaccines provide adequate protection against the highly contagious variant of Omicron, even as manufacturers develop next generation vaccines.

The latest tech note from the World Health Agency aims to answer some of the big unanswered questions about the highly mutated variant that first appeared in November, such as severity, transmissibility and the ability to escape. vaccines. It also sets the priorities of its member states.

But on one of the key questions of whether a new vaccine specific to Omicron was now needed, the UN agency had no immediate answer.

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“Further research is needed to better understand Omicron’s immune evasion potential against vaccine-induced immunity and infections, and Omicron’s specific responses to vaccines,” he said.

A WHO official had previously said this issue requires “global coordination” and should not be left to manufacturers to decide on their own. Read more

Some vaccine manufacturers are already developing next-generation vaccines targeting the highly contagious variant first detected in southern Africa and Hong Kong.

On Monday, Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said a redesigned COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron coronavirus variant would likely be needed and his company may have one ready to launch by March. Read more

Rival Moderna Inc (MRNA.O) is also working on a suitable vaccine candidate for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, but it is unlikely to be available in the next two months. Read more

A WHO technical group has met on the composition of the vaccine in recent weeks and is expected to make a further statement later on Tuesday, a WHO spokesperson said.

Additional data on the efficacy of the Omicron vaccine and the need for variant-suitable vaccines will be available in the coming weeks, the WHO said in the statement.

He urged countries and partners to study the efficacy and impact of vaccines.

The agency said early data suggests homologous and heterologous booster doses increase vaccine effectiveness against Omicron infection and symptomatic illnesses compared to Delta, but one study showed decreased effectiveness. booster doses for symptomatic illness caused by Omicron.

Analysis by the UK Health Security Agency has shown that booster injections offer high levels of protection for older people against serious illness due to the Omicron variant coronavirus, but the duration of protection against mild symptomatic infection is shorter and drops to about 30% from about three months. Read more

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Report by Mrinalika Roy and Emma Farge, edited by Alexandra Hudson

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