German pharmaceutical company BioNTech has already started working on a new coronavirus vaccine to protect against the Omicron variant. The company, which partnered with Pfizer to create an mRNA vaccine for COVID-19, said it expects to have data from the new variant in about two weeks and will determine if the mutations will help it evade immune protection provided by the vaccine.
The World Health Organization has declared the Omicron variant a "variant of concern" because it has over 50 mutations, including roughly 30 to the spike protein, which could make it more transmissible than the Delta variant and more effective at infecting people who are vaccinated.
"The first steps of developing a potential new vaccine overlap with the research necessary in order to evaluate whether a new shot will be needed. The objective of this approach, which was initiated last Thursday, is to move forward quickly if a variant-specific vaccine is needed," BioNTech said in a statement to Business Insider.
If the Omicron variant does evade immune protection, the company said it should be able to start shipping an updated vaccine within 100 days.
Moderna is also working on adapting its vaccine against the new variant, which was first discovered in South Africa and has quickly spread to several other countries. While it has not been detected in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci said it "inevitably it will be here."