Key Words: BioNTech CEO reportedly says a different COVID vaccine may be needed by next year

United States

“This year [a different vaccine] is completely unneeded. But by mid next year, it could be a different situation.”

— BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin

BioNTech’s chief executive officer Ugur Sahin told the Financial Times in an interview that COVID-19 is likely to continue mutating to the point where it can escape vaccines and immune systems.

A COVID vaccine developed by BioNTech BNTX, -6.67% and Pfizer PFE, -0.19%, using mRNA technology has been used worldwide to help fight the pandemic, with 1.5 billion doses shipped to more than 130 countries as of late September, according to a company presentation. Vaccines and booster shots currently available are potent enough for the current strains, including the highly contagious delta, but the virus has just started a process of evolving, said Sahin, in the interview that published Sunday.

“We have no reason to assume that the next generation virus will be easier to handle for the immune system than the existing generation,” said Sahin, who sees the coming year’s focus on booster shots for the vaccinated and a continued effort to vaccinate those who haven’t been

Last week, financial markets cheered news of Merck MRK, +8.37% and Ridgeback Therapeutics’ experimental oral antiviral treatment for COVID-19. The drug, molnupiravir, cut risk of hospitalization or death by 50% in a Phase 3 trial, and seems to work against gamma, delta, and mu variants in around 40% of participants for whom sequencing was available. 

Read: Why a pill you take at home could change the direction of the pandemic

Medical experts have warned though that Merck’s potentially groundbreaking new treatment could be used by some as an excuse not to get vaccinated. “It’s not a magic pill,”  said Dr. William Schaffner, a professor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Infectious Diseases Division.

Read: Fauci says legitimate claims to religious exemptions from vaccine mandates are scarce