'Don't freak out' about Omicron because vaccines will work, BioNTech chief says

1 December 2021, 14:01

The BioNTech chief said vaccines will still work against Omicron
The BioNTech chief said vaccines will still work against Omicron. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

"Don't freak out" about the Omicron variant, says the CEO behind one of the most widely-used vaccines against coronavirus.

Ugur Sahin, who heads up BioNTech, said an extra layer of defence in people's bodies will help defend against the concerning Covid strain.

He admitted that some loss of protection vaccines provide in stopping mild and moderate disease from coronavirus infection could be lost, and upcoming lab tests may demonstrate that.

But despite gloomy warnings from UK Government experts, and the imposition of new measures like mandatory face masks in shops and on public transport, Mr Sahin has said the worst reaction is not getting vaccinated.

"Our message is: Don't freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot," he told the Wall Street Journal in the US.

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"Our belief [that the vaccines still provide defence against the new variant] 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.

"Even as an escape variant, the virus will hardly be able to completely evade the T-cells."

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is the most used Covid jab in the world, according to Oxford University's Our World in Data.

It has been used in more than 450m doses around the world.

Mr Sahin's comments follow the UK's imposition of new measures to fight its spread.

On top of the new mask mandate, all travellers to the UK must isolate on arrival until they get a negative PCR test result and all contacts of an Omicron case have to quarantine regardless of age or vaccine status.

Ugur Sahin said not to "freak out" over Omicron
Ugur Sahin said not to "freak out" over Omicron. Picture: Alamy

Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England, said it appeared vaccines were less effective against the variant.

Mr Sahin said he believed "people will have substantial protection against severe disease caused by Omicron".

Severe disease, he told Reuters, would amount to needing hospital or intensive care.

"To my mind there's no reason to be particularly worried. The only thing that worries me at the moment is the fact that there are people that have not been vaccinated at all," he added.

The new measures introduced by Boris Johnson are to be reviewed in three weeks' time.