By Barbara Kollmeyer
Moderna’s chief executive officer Stephane Bancel said the company hopes to have a combined flu and COVID vaccine ready for 2023, but virus experts speaking on a panel Monday poured cold water on the possibly of the pandemic shifting to an endemic phase this year.
Bancel said in addition to an omicron vaccine that they hope will be ready for regulatory scrutiny by March, the company /zigman2/quotes/205619834/composite MRNA +1.01% hopes to have its combination flu/COVID jab ready by autumn of 2023. And this would go some ways toward breaking down resistance among individuals to vaccines.
“Our goal is to be able to have a single annual booster so that we don’t have compliance issues where people don’t want to get to get two to three shots a winter, but to get one dose where they get a booster for Corona and a booster for flu and RSV to make sure people get their vaccines,” said Bancel in a virtual World Economic Forum panel on Monday.
Virtual gatherings hosted by the World Economic Forum on Monday were being held instead of the annual January meeting in Davos, Switzerland, due to pandemic concerns.
Also on the panel was Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president and director of the Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease. He said an endemic phase, when the virus is more manageable and marked by greater population immunity, remains some ways off.
“I think if you look at the history of infectious diseases, we’ve only eradicated one infectious disease…and that’s smallpox, and that’s not going to happen with this virus,” said Fauci, who said he would consider the pandemic to have reached endemic status when it doesn’t disrupt society.
“I really do think it remains to be seen whether omicron is going to be the live virus vaccination that everyone is hoping for because you have such a great deal of variability with variants,” he said.
Another panel member, Annelies Wilder-Smith, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said she is hoping for the best-case scenario in the virus’s evolution. However, she said the world should be “prepared for the worst case” of another variant with high transmissibility and high mortality. That’s the key allegation made by Dr. Robert Malone, a controversial doctor and pioneer mRNA reseacher
Wilder-Smith said there were ,though, obvious positives compared with the start of the pandemic, when a global population of 7.7 billion had zero immunity to the virus, while now more than 50% of those billions have received two doses.
Misinformation surrounding vaccines remains a major global challenge ahead, the experts said, and Fauci addressed one belief that that too many boosters could be harmful for immune systems. That’s the key allegation made by Dr. Robert Malone, a controversial doctor and pioneer mRNA reseacher.
“Obviously if you just give a person an antigen all the time, you get a hyperactivity of immunity but giving boosters at different times, there’s no evidence that’s gonna hinder it,” said Fauci.
That said, individuals need to need to understand that a good vaccine may not prevent initial infection, which may be mild, but still prevent most hospitalizations and death, such as what has been seen with the omicron variant.
Fauci added it was important experts don’t approach new every new variant with a “whack-a-mole” approach, rather he said they’re “trying to figure out what the mechanisms are that induces a response to a commonality among the potential variants we’re seeing and that can occur.”
Fauci was asked in particular why the U.S., one of the world’s richest nations, is struggling so much to contain COVID, saying that was in part due to a “fractured and disparate accessibility to healthcare.
“We have individuals who don’t have access to care, a higher degree of hospitalization and death in minority populations, but we also have such a degree of pushback against regular, normal, easy-to-understand health measures, reluctance to wear masks, reluctance to promote vaccinations and do public health measures. If we all pulled together we’d be much better off,” he said.