People may need a fourth COVID-19 shot sooner than expected, Pfizer’s CEO said on Wednesday.
Albert Bourla told CNBC that preliminary research shows the new Omicron variant can undermine protective antibodies generated by the vaccine developed with BioNTech.
The comments come after the company released the results from an initial lab study on Wednesday that showed a three-shot course of their COVID-19 vaccine could significantly protect against the new variant and said they could deliver an upgraded vaccine in March 2022 if needed.
“When we see real-world data, it will determine if the omicron is well covered by the third dose and for how long. And the second point, I think we will need a fourth dose,” Bourla told CNBC, adding, it was still unclear when a fourth dose would be needed.
“With Omicron we need to wait and see because we have very little information. We may need it faster”.
Bourla stressed it is crucial right now to administer doses for the winter as people spend more time indoors in unventilated spaces.
“A third dose will give very good protection I believe,” Bourla said.
The Pfizer CEO also said the company’s antiviral pill Paxlovid will also help prevent hospitalisations.
Last month, Pfizer submitted its application for emergency authorisation of the pill. Bourla said he expects the pill to demonstrate an 89 per cent reduction in hospitalisation and deaths.
Bourla also said he anticipates new variants will continue to emerge in the future and that the company is monitoring to see if vaccine adjustments will be necessary.
As countries scramble to rollout COVID-19 vaccine boosters, a World Health Organization (WHO) advisory group on Thursday decided against endorsing a broad-based rollout of booster shots.
The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) said poor countries are subject to vaccine inequality and that the first dose should be the priority.
The WHO has endorsed third vaccines or booster shots for those who are immunocompromised or received an inactivated COVID-19 vaccine. But WHO experts have said there is not enough data on the Omicron variant to demonstrate that boosters are necessary.
On Wednesday, the WHO said the new variant could change the course of the pandemic.
“Certain features of Omicron, including its global spread and large number of mutations, suggest it could have a major impact on the course of the pandemic,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a media briefing.