Updated COVID vaccine may be needed next year, says BioNTech CEO
A new formulation is likely to be needed by the middle of next year to protect against COVID-19 as it mutates, Uğur Şahin, the chief executive of BioNTech that is behind one of the first mRNA vaccines against the coronavirus, has told the Financial Times.
The Germany-based BioNTech developed the COVID-19 vaccine jointly with the U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer.
“This year [a different vaccine] is completely unneeded. But by mid next year, it could be a different situation,” he predicted.
Şahin said the COVID-19 variants currently in circulation, particularly the Delta strain, were more contagious but not different enough to undermine the effectiveness of the current vaccines.
Booster shots seem able to tackle the main variants, according to Şahin. But the virus will eventually develop mutations that can escape the immune response bestowed by the vaccine, he said, necessitating a “tailored” version to specifically target the new strain.
This virus will stay, and the virus will further adapt, he added.
“We have no reason to assume that the next generation virus will be easier to handle for the immune system than the existing generation. This is a continuous evolution, and that evolution has just started.”
By next year, there will be two main streams to vaccination programs, Şahin predicted.
There will be booster shots for those who have already been vaccinated, as well as a continued push to vaccinate people that have had minimal access so far.
Şahin declined to offer any forecasts of how the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine would be priced in the future, but said he expected it would still be needed in the coming years.
Turkey, which started its coronavirus inoculation program in mid-January, is presently using both the BioNTech/Pfizer jab and the vaccine developed by the Chinese company Sinovac.
The country is also carrying out studies to develop its own vaccine against the deadly virus.
“We need to move faster in vaccination. The disease is spreading even faster under the current conditions,” Health Minister Fahrettin Koca warned in a tweet.
To date, Turkey has given well over 110 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines. More than 45 million people have been fully vaccinated and over 54 million have received at least one dose of the jab.
Over 10 million people have been given a third dose of the shot.