Pharmaceutical firms work to tweak vaccines against new ‘Omicron’ variant

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ork is underway to look at tweaking vaccines against the new concerning strain of coronavirus that has sparked travel bans.

The variant, named Omicron and designated a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has reached Belgium after being discovered in South Africa.

The WHO warned that preliminary evidence suggests the variant has an increased risk of reinfection and may spread more rapidly than other strains.

A number of pharmaceutical firms have said they are working to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of Omicron.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said there is “huge international concern” surrounding the strain after banning flights from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia to limit its spread.

Mr Javid told MPs there are concerns the variant may be more transmissible, make existing vaccines less effective and may hinder one of the UK’s Covid treatments, Ronapreve.

Ministers were facing calls to go further to prevent a wave of the new variant arriving in Britain while a Delta surge is ongoing, as Belgium became the first EU country to announce a case.

Professor John Edmunds, who advises the Government as part of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), warned that could create a “very, very, very difficult situation”.

The EU, US and Canada all followed Britain’s move to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa ahead of the WHO adding the strain, also known as B.1.1.529, to its highest category for concerning variants.

Experts at the WHO said there is early evidence to suggest Omicron has an “increased risk of reinfection” and its rapid spread in South Africa suggests it has a “growth advantage”.

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