While the rest of the world rejoices at the possibility that the omicron wave might actually bring about the end of the pandemic (while also being bullish for stocks, as we explored earlier in a post about some recent findings out of South Africa), vaccine makers are already strategizing about how they will convince the world to keep buying boosters when the imminent threat posed by COVID has receded.
Speaking at a conference hosted by - who else? - Goldman Sachs, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said another round of vaccine boosters will probably be needed this fall, even if immunity to the rapidly spreading omicron does become widespread, like the South African scientists have warned.
Bancel added that even if omicron finally causes COVID to become endemic, there will still be a need for people to get their shots, since it's not clear how long the current wave of immunity will hold. And there's always uncertainty, since noboody can say for sure what future iterations of SARS-CoV-2 will be like.
"Assuming omicron is an acceleration to the endemic phase, I still believe we're going to need boosters in the fall of ‘22 and forward," Bancel said during his presentation.
But no matter what happens, boosters given this month or in the last quarter of 2021 will probably hold until spring begins in the Northern Hemisphere.
Moderna, which directly benefits from repeat inoculations, said during its Q3 earnings results that commercial booster market sales could be up to $2 billion in the United States in 2022.
As some countries (mostly US and Israel) deliver on plans to add more boosters, Moderna and its vaccine-producing rivals are scrambling to get as many governments as possible signed up for more shipments of their vaccines (remember, a booster is just half a dose of the vaccine). If the urgency surrounding COVID fades, then that could threaten their bottom line. And while WHO Chief Dr. Tedros has warned that countries can't "boost their way out" of the pandemic, Moderna's success is completely dependent on them selling more vaccines and boosters. And this isn't just true of Moderna, but of its competitors as well.
Moderna and competitors J&J, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE have an interest in nudging policymakers toward regular Covid shots. Countries around the world have rushed forward with booster drives in an attempt to slow omicron’s spread, even as it remains unclear how long the boosters will protect against infection. Israel has started offering a fourth dose of the vaccine to people aged 60 and over as the country grapples with record numbers of new cases.
Bancel also told Thursday’s conference that he also believes elderly citizens and those with underlying health conditions may need to get a booster shot every year, adding that Moderna is working on an omicron-specific jab, which the company has promised to have ready by springtime in the northern hemisphere.
Early data out of the UK last month purported to show that the protection afforded by booster shots waned far more quickly than scientists had anticipated.