Gottlieb: Variant-specific vaccines 'may not work'

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  • Scott Gottlieb
    American physician and conservative health policy analyst
  • Margaret Brennan
    American journalist


Former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said on Sunday that "there's reason to believe" variant-specific immunizations might not work against other COVID-19 variants.

"Face the Nation" moderator Margaret Brennan asked Gottlieb on CBS if the Biden administration needed to look at getting vaccine manufacturers to "reboot" existing COVID-19 vaccines in order to tackle the new omicron variant.

Noting that companies, including Pfizer, were doing so, Gottlieb said, "This is going to be a really critical decision because what we've seen in the past, for example, when we engineered a vaccine to specifically target 1351, the old South African variant, was that vaccine worked well or appeared to work well against 1351 but didn't appear to provide as good coverage against all the other variants."

"And there's reason to believe that as you develop vaccines that are very specific to some of these new variants, they may not work as well against the full complement of different variants that we've seen. So you wanted to try to stick with the ancestral strain, the Wuhan strain, in the vaccine, I think, as long as possible," Gottlieb continued.

The former FDA commissioner, who also serves on Pfizer's board, said that as the virus begins to mutate, it "probably starts to hide some of the viral targets on its surface," and therefore the vaccine developed does not give as "broad immunity to the full complement of targets on its surface."

The news comes as scientists are trying to rapidly learn more about the omicron variant, which has been detected in more than a dozen states in the U.S. since it was first officially reported in South Africa.

Scientists are unsure if the variant is more or less contagious than previous strains or how effective the COVID-19 vaccines will be against omicron.

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