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Covid entering endemic phase, but annual vaccines will be needed: Moderna

Covid will likely follow seasonal patterns like other respiratory viruses, such as the flu

Even as the number of Covid cases are declining in several parts of the world, US drug maker Moderna has said that the pandemic will end in 2022, yet annual vaccinations are needed, the media reported.

Although Covid is entering an endemic phase, Moderna Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said the virus will continue to circulate but at a more static and predictable rate, CNBC reported.

"We do believe that we are transitioning into an endemic phase marked by a period of stability in case counts, hospitalisations and deaths at least in the Northern Hemisphere," he was quoted as saying to analysts after the company reported fourth-quarter earnings.

North America, Europe, most of Asia and much of Africa are in the Northern Hemisphere. However, Burton said Moderna is closely monitoring the trajectory of the virus in the Southern Hemisphere, which includes large nations such as Brazil and South Africa, as winter approaches there.

Burton said Covid will likely follow seasonal patterns like other respiratory viruses, such as the flu. However, he warned people will still get sick and die from Covid even when the virus becomes endemic.

He noted that other endemic coronaviruses cause 340,000 hospitalisations and 20,000 deaths annually for people older than 65 years old, citing data from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

According to Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel, there is still a need for another booster shot in the fall, particularly for individuals over 50 and those who are at high risk due to underlying health conditions.

"I got a flu shot every year, not that I was worried of dying or getting hospitalised – I just don't want to get sick," Bancel was quoted as saying.

On Thursday's earnings call, Bancel said he expects Covid shots will have a similar role in the future as the virus becomes seasonal, the report said.

Moderna has also announced that it is developing a booster vaccine that targets Omicron and other Covid variants such as Delta. Burton said the current booster protects against hospitalisation from Delta and to a lesser extent from Omicron. However, he said the effectiveness of the vaccine declines over time, the report said.

Burton said the disease burden and deaths have declined from their highest levels during the first wave of infection, when no one had immunity to the virus.

"With each subsequent wave in mid-2021 with delta and late 2021 and early 2022 with omicron, the morbidity observed from these waves tended to be less severe, certainly relative to the first wave, as our immune systems became more experienced at fighting the SARS-CoV-2-virus," Burton said.

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