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Maryland's Novavax working on its version of COVID-19 vaccine to target omicron variant

Novavax Scientist Conducting Vaccine Development Research (Credit: Novavax)
Novavax Scientist Conducting Vaccine Development Research (Credit: Novavax)
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The Omicron variant is quickly becoming a household name but the hope is that it won’t enter households here in the D.C. area.

After what happened a few months ago with the Delta variant many are growing more concerned with this variant especially because on the surface preliminarily it appears to be more stubborn.

Most scientists believe it’s not a question of if but when it will become an issue here in the United States, so a handful of companies are already working on vaccines to combat it.

In Gaithersburg, Maryland, Novavax says it has already started working on a version of its COVID-19 vaccine to target this new variant detected in South Africa.

But will we need a new vaccine?

UVA Health expert Dr. Taison Bell says the concern is that current vaccines could prove less effective because the Omicron has a much larger amount of mutations and might also be more transmissible.

SEE ALSO | Biden pushes shots, not more restrictions as omicron variant spreads

“We are not sure at this point if we need a new vaccine or not. This concept of vaccine evasion, it’s not like a light switch, it’s not like you either have it on or off," said Bell. “It’s really that you could have less effectiveness with the vaccine and what that would mean is that you potentially you could have a booster for instance, have high antibody levels and that might do the trick. We just don’t know at this point”

For now, this vaccine is not approved in the U.S., it will be used in Indonesia and The Philippines.

We are told it should be ready for testing and manufacturing in the next few weeks. The Novavax vaccine received its first emergency use approval earlier this month abroad.

Novavax had delayed filing for U.S. approval after reports that the company faced production and quality problems.

SEE ALSO | Wary, weary world slams doors shut in face of new variant

The company has said it is on track to file for U.S. approval by the end of the year. It has also filed for approvals in Europe as well as in Canada.

The shot being worked on at Novavax contains an actual version of the virus' spike protein that cannot cause disease but can trigger the immune system.

“The spike protein is the part of the coronavirus that works like a lock and key. It’s a key that inserts and of the lock recognizes on our cells, then the virus gains entry. When there is a variant or a change in that spike protein, that could actually mean that the key could fit better and it makes it easier for the cell to enter. It also means that our antibodies may not be able to recognize it as well.”, said Dr. Bell.

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The CDC says we should know in a couple of weeks if this type of vaccine will be needed.

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