In an interview with the German-language Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Moderna leader Stéphane Bancel shared his predictions about the course of the pandemic.
When asked when the pandemic phase would end, Bancel replied: “As of today, I assume in one year.”
Seniors will need yearly COVID-19 boosters, Bancel said, while the rest of the public will benefit from boosters once every three years.
The durability of COVID-19 vaccines depends on age. Bancel pointed to the coronavirus OC43 as a case in point. The virus, which causes mild-to-moderate respiratory infections, tends to infect older people annually, while younger people about once every three years. “That shows us approximately the path we will tread with COVID-19,” Bancel told the newspaper.
The company is developing a flu vaccine that will cover OC43. In addition, the company is also developing a combination flu–COVID-19 vaccine.
Bancel is confident in the need for boosters, arguing that the effectiveness of vaccination steadily decreases. High-risk patients who received the first two vaccine doses in late 2020 will undoubtedly require a booster, Bancel said. “I assume that in the U.S., we will start with boosting people 65 and over and then expand boosters to younger people,” he explained. “No government can afford to have more and more people hospitalized so that lockdowns are required again.”
Next year, there will be plenty of vaccine to go around, the Moderna CEO said. He estimated that by the middle of 2022, there would be enough vaccine doses available for the entire global population. Sufficient booster doses should be available at that time point as well. “Those who don’t get vaccinated will develop natural immunity because the Delta variant is so infectious.
Moderna plans to use a 50-μg dose of mRNA in its boosters rather than the 100-μg dose of its first two doses, which will help the company scale production in the long run. With a 100-μg dose booster, the company projected it could produce between two and three billion doses in 2022.
A half dose doesn’t mean subpar performance, Bancel said. “With a half dose of Moderna, antibody levels were about 75% higher than in the subjects at the end of the previous test phase last year,” he explained. “At that time, the effectiveness was 95%.”
For the sake of comparison, the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine uses a 30-μg dose of mRNA for its primary series of vaccination. The companies are planning on using the same quantity in booster doses.
Bancel notes that several independent long-term studies have shown the Moderna vaccine outperformed the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with more pronounced differences in some individuals. “We believe that is a result of the dose,” Bancel said.
Bancel has said in the past that Moderna is not a COVID-19 vaccine company. Moderna currently has 34 products in its pipeline. “My goal is to get to 50,” Bancel said.
Filed Under: Infectious Disease