If new versions are needed to protect people everywhere, companies should make them available to African countries that need them most and can least afford them, said Dr de Oliveira.
“South Africa has at least managed to get its own vaccines,” he said. But poorer countries like Sudan, Mozambique, Eswatini and Lesotho will need low-cost options.
Pfizer did not respond to a question about cheap vaccines for African countries. Dr Hoge, of Moderna, said the company already has an agreement with the African Union to provide 110 million doses at $ 3.50 per half-dose of vaccine.
Dr Hoge said he recognizes that 110 million people represent less than 10 percent of Africa’s population. But, he noted, “we are also the smallest of all manufacturers, so hopefully 10% is useful.”
Despite the frustration South African scientists have expressed over the inequality of vaccines and punitive travel restrictions, they have been inundated with requests for Omicron genetic sequences from Italy, Germany, Australia and New Zealand, as well as laboratories in North America.
The more teams involved the better, said Dr Moore, who received around 50 requests on Saturday alone. As the virus travels around the world, it is likely to continue to change. “Getting the right mix of mutations per se is a moving target,” she said.
Researchers everywhere want to avoid drawing conclusions prematurely, a mistake they made when the beta variant surfaced. Preliminary testing of this variant took into account only one known mutation and underestimated its ability to evade the immune system, Dr. Moore recalled. (Fortunately, the variant was also found to be less contagious.)