22 Billion More mRNA Vaccines Needed To Stop Omicron, Study Finds
“The scientific evidence is clear: only by universally deploying the vaccines currently most effective against infection – which for now appear to be mRNA vaccines – will we be able to blunt the virus’s evolution and begin to bring the pandemic under control globally.”
January, 5 2022– The emergence of the immune-evasive Omicron variant means that 22 billion more mRNA vaccine doses are now needed to bring the pandemic under control, according to a new report from experts at PrEP4All and Partners In Health, written with scientists at Harvard Medical School, the Columbia University Schools of Public Health and medicine, the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization in Canada, and New York University.
Current research shows that the Pfizer-BioNTech and NIAID-Moderna mRNA vaccines are among the only widely used vaccines that have been clearly demonstrated to provide significant protection against Omicron infection as an initial two-dose series, with a third dose of mRNA vaccine being necessary to further recover protection against infection. Early clinical data suggest that an mRNA booster dose can also recover protection among individuals vaccinated with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
While non-mRNA vaccines will still likely protect individuals from hospitalization, the report notes, protection from Omicron infection is necessary to bring the pandemic under control globally. Stopping infection and transmission reduces the chance that new viral variants will emerge. “Future viral variants may become even more transmissible, immune evasive, and virulent than Delta or Omicron,” warn the authors of the report.
The experts estimate that 10.5 billion mRNA vaccine doses are needed just for boosters in those who have been previously vaccinated, with another 11.5 billion doses needed to cover those who have yet to finish their primary vaccination series, for a total of 22 billion doses needed. Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, neither of which met their 2021 projections, claim they will make a combined total of 7 billion mRNA vaccine doses in 2022. At this level, the world will face a shortfall of 15 billion doses of mRNA vaccine next year–moving global vaccine equity further out of reach.
The report’s authors urge the Biden administration to immediately scale mRNA vaccine production by 15 billion doses per year via a government-owned factory as a matter of national security. Deeming the task “imminently achievable,” they estimate that the construction of manufacturing capacity needed to produce 15 billion mRNA vaccine doses per year will cost less than $12 billion in capital expenses and can be accomplished in under 4-6 months.
Scientists and advocates, including the report’s authors, have warned the Biden administration for over a year of the urgent need to scale mRNA vaccine production capacity to respond in the event of new viral variants. “These warnings were not heeded,” conclude the report’s authors. “In order to stop the proliferation of new viral variants that continuously threaten lives and livelihoods in the United States and around the world,” they write, “it is critical that the United States Government—and specifically the administration of President Joseph Biden—ensures the production of billions of additional mRNA vaccine doses, and ensures full funding for programs to administer them into the arms of people who want them, to provide maximum immunological protection against SARS-CoV-2 to every person on earth. This is essential to the economy and biosecurity of the United States of America and the globe.”