Ugur Sahin, the co-founder of BioNTech who invented one of the world’s first Covid-19 vaccines, has asked people to keep their cool amid the discovery of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
In an interview to The Wall Street Journal, Ugur Sahin said that while the Omicron variant could lead to more vaccinated people becoming infected, they will likely remain protected against severe illness.
“Our message is: Don’t freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot,” he told the WSJ.
Sahin said that the BioNTech mRNA jab, which he and his team of researchers invented in January 2020, and then developed together with United States drugs giant Pfizer, has already proven that it can protect against severe disease from other variants of the virus that vaccinated people have contracted.
He noted that while Omicron will likely be able to evade antibodies generated by vaccines better than Delta, due to the new variant’s higher number of mutations, it is unlikely that Omicron will be able to circumnavigate the body’s T-cell immune response to an infection.
“Our belief [that the vaccines work against Omicron] is rooted in science: If a virus achieves immune escape, it achieves it against antibodies, but there is the second level of immune response that protects from severe disease—the T-cells,” he said.
Sahin added that bringing an adjusted, Omicron-targeting jab to market would take about 100 days, but that it might not be necessary.
“We have a plan to administer a third shot to people, and we must stick to this plan and speed it up,” he said.
“Whether or not we will need extra protection by an adapted vaccine, this remains to be seen, later.”