Bancel made this assertion during a Jan. 6 health care conference organized by investment firm Goldman Sachs. "I still believe we're going to need boosters in the fall of  and forward," he said. The Moderna CEO added that older people and those who have underlying health conditions might need to get injected with boosters on a yearly basis.
Back in December 2021, the Massachusetts-based vaccine maker said preliminary booster dose trials showed promising results against the B11529 omicron variant. A 50 microgram (µg) booster of its mRNA-1273 vaccine boosted neutralizing antibody levels by 37 times, while a 100 µg booster increased antibodies by 83 times.
"The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases from the omicron variant is concerning to all. However, these data showing that the currently authorized Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels are reassuring," Bancel said in the Dec. 20 press release.
The press release further stated: "Moving forward, given the strength of the mRNA-1273 [vaccine] and the speed at which the omicron variant is spreading, Moderna's first line of defense against omicron will be a booster dose."
The Moderna CEO nevertheless expressed optimism during the Jan. 6 conference. He said that omicron could accelerate the transition from the pandemic's acute phase toward a point where enough people achieve some level of immunity. COVID-19 would no longer disrupt people's daily lives when this goal is reached, Bancel added.
"We have been saying that we believe first – this virus is not going away, We're going to have to live with it. What is totally impossible to predict is a new mutation – coming in a day, a week, three months – that is worse in terms of severity of disease. That's a piece that we'll have to just be cautious about."
Bancel's Jan. 6 comments appeared to support earlier statements he made in late 2021. The Moderna executive told the Financial Times (FT) in November last year that existing vaccines and treatments may be less effective against omicron.
He told the newspaper during an interview at the company's Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters: "There is no world, I think, where [vaccine] effectiveness is the same level we had with [the B16172] delta [variant]. All the scientists I've talked to are like, 'This is not going to be good.'" (Related: Moderna CEO: Existing COVID vaccines, treatments may not work well against omicron variant.)
According to Bancel, the high number of mutations on the omicron variant's spike protein – more than 30 – became a cause of concern for scientists. The virus uses the spike protein to latch onto and infect human cells. Scientists were of the opinion that the mutations could undermine the effectiveness of vaccines already in use, and such a highly mutated strain would not emerge for another year or two.
In response to the emergence of omicron, Moderna outlined three major strategies against it in a Nov. 26, 2021 press release. First, it began testing a higher-dose booster of its standard mRNA-1273 vaccine. The outcome of this testing was elaborated in the company's Dec. 20 press release, with a 100 µg booster dose increasing antibodies by 83-fold.
Second, it studied two vaccine booster candidates targeting specific mutations in particular. The first candidate, mRNA-1273.211, addresses four similar mutations present both in omicron and the B1351 beta variant. The second candidate, mRNA-1273.213, targets several mutations found in the beta, delta and omicron strains. (Related: YOU are the business model: Moderna says never-ending "booster" shots needed to eliminate covid.)
Third, it announced the development of a booster dose – mRNA-1273.529 – exclusively for the omicron variant. Moderna's Dec. 20 press release elaborated on this variant-specific booster, saying that it is expected to advance into clinical trials in early 2022.
Watch the video below of Gabor "Gabe" Zolna talking about Moderna's fourth booster dose.
BigPharmaNews.com has more about Moderna's push for COVID-19 booster doses.