CORONAVIRUS/COVID-19 vaccines may be effective against Omicron: ex-Academia Sinica head
Taipei, Dec. 7 (CNA) Existing COVID-19 vaccines are likely to provide a considerable degree of protection against the Omicron coronavirus variant according to initial assessments, former Academia Sinica President Wong Chi-huey (翁啟惠) said Monday.
Although most of Omicron cases are mild, the variant still needs to be watched closely, Wong noted.
Describing the appearance of the new coronavirus variant as worrisome, Wong said that more time is needed to understand whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants.
There is a very small number of severe COVID-19 cases, but it is still unknown whether patients who had mild symptoms were helped by having been vaccinated, Wong noted.
There are some early signs that COVID-19 vaccines may be effective against Omicron and the extent of the threat posed by Omicron might not be as great as people had thought, he added.
Wong, who is the president of the Institute of Biotechnology and Medicine Industry (IBIM), told CNA that nearly two years after the first COVID-19 cases were recorded, a large number of variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, had been detected, with five attracting the most attention -- the Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta strains, as well as the new Omicron variant.
Currently, 90 percent of more than 265 million COVID-19 cases reported worldwide are attributed to the Delta variant.
Wong said that Academia Sinica's Genomics Research Center had developed a mRNA vaccine which had been proven initially in animal trials to provide protection against various COVID-19 variants and may be effective against the Omicron variant.
The center is applying for patents related to its vaccine and is entering negotiations on technology transfer, Wong added.
The World Health Organization has approved at least six types of COVID-19 vaccines for use, including Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Sinovax, and Sinopharm, according to Wong.
In addition, about 300 new vaccines are in development. To date, about 50 percent of the world's population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, Wong added.
However, less than 5 percent of the population in Africa has received one dose of a vaccine, he noted, warning that if vaccination rates continue to stay low in the continent, this could be dangerous.
Although COVID-19 breakthrough infections are on the rise, vaccination can prevent or reduce disease severity in individuals who do get infected and is still the best tool to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, Wong said.
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