For the first time, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said definitively on Friday that people will need another dose of coronavirus vaccine in eight months in order to address mutations that have occurred since the original vaccine was developed.
The news does not comes entirely as a surprise; since the beginning of this year, variants of the original coronavirus have popped up all over the world — as viruses normally mutate over time.
Variants have been traced back to Great Britain, India, South Africa, Brazil, New York City and many other areas around the world as the virus found hosts in those who had not yet received the vaccines.
Coronavirus vaccine booster shots — and possible pills that cure virus
Speaking to the Sixth Annual Delphi Economic Forum, taking part this year in a hybrid form due to the ongoing pandemic, Bourla addressed the adequacy of the Pfizer vaccine and his objections to giving up the rights to vaccine patents.
In remarks to journalist Sia Kosioni, the Thessaloniki-born Pharma CEO initially referred to the position he has taken against the release of patents for vaccines.
As he pointed out, regarding price, Pfizer already provides vaccines at cost, depending on the financial condition of the nations that purchase it.
Regarding production volume, Bourla said, companies already have the ability to produce as much as is needed, adding that Pfizer plans to produce 3 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine worldwide for 2021 — and 4 billion doses in 2022.
All vaccines, but especially those made by Pfizer and Moderna, which are based on mRNA, are extraordinarily complex to produce, with specialized machinery having to be built during 2020 to manufacture the product.
“It’s not goodwill that produces innovations”
Bourla further explained “Even if we were to release the patents, it would take 2-3 years for anyone to set up the necessary infrastructure and several billion dollars.
“The only reason we have vaccines now is that we have a strong pharmaceutical industry. If we did not have it, we would mourn the victims. Such a proposal would deal a major blow to this robust industry,” he pointed out.
Bourla stated that the reality is that it is not goodwill that produces innovation — rather, it is the accumulation of funds and the accumulation of scientists who utilize these funds.
He went on to say that in order to have a strong pharmaceutical industry, we must have intellectual property protection, “because there is nothing but intellectual property.”
Asked by the interviewer if there would soon be an easier to take drug to counter the virus, Bourla gave concrete assurances that Pfizer was currently working on just such a product.
The CEO revealed that the medication the company is working on has so far been shown to kill the virus and is very safe. In prior interviews Bourla had stated that the drug, in the class of protease inhibitors, was one currently taken by AIDS patients. Results from these ongoing trials, he said, will be forthcoming “after the summer.”
The American pharmaceutical giant had recently announced it is now working toward developing a single pill that would work to cure Covid-19. The pill is currently in Phase One clinical trials which were announced two weeks ago in the US and Belgium, and it could be available to the public by the end of the year.
Possible cure for Covid-19 on top of vaccine
The antiviral pill that Pfizer is developing is codenamed PF 07321332. The way it is expected to work is by targeting the “spine” of the Covid-19 virus, and therefore block it from replicating in the throats and lungs of those suffering from the virus.
This type of drug, called a “protease inhibitor,” has been used in the past to help manage the HIV epidemic. After this type of medication was first released in 1996, the annual number of deaths related to HIV in the US fell from 50,000 to 18,000 within two years.
Similar groundbreaking results are possible for Covid-19 survival rates if Pfizer’s miracle pill is deemed safe and effective after the ongoing clinical trials.
Immunity after coronavirus vaccine expected to last “at least six months”
Asked just how long immunity will last for the current Pfizer vaccine, Bourla said it will cover at least six months, adding that his prediction is that a third dose will be needed in 8-12 months.
Asked if the vaccination would need to be repeated every year, he said his prediction was that we would indeed have to undergo annual vaccinations after the third dose.
Regarding mutations in the virus, the Pfizer CEO was reassuring that — so far — there has been no mutation that has escaped the effectiveness of his company’s vaccine.
Just in case of such a possibility arising in the future, however, Bourla stated that the company is working feverishly so that in 100 days there will be doses of new vaccines ready for production, at which time they will be submitted to the drug regulatory authorities.
Previously, in an interview with CNBC, Bourla had discussed the possibility of booster shots for the coronavirus.
“We need to see what the sequence would be, and for how often we need to do that, that remains to be seen,” he told interviewers at CNBC, adding, “A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed.”
The Pfizer head said that it is important to minimize the pool of people who remain susceptible to the virus by continuing to vaccinate as many individuals as possible. This minimizes the mutations that the virus can undergo as it lives inside its human hosts.
According to a report from Business Today, a White House official also stated on Thursday that the US is preparing for the possibility of a coronavirus booster shot that would be needed at some point between the next nine and 12 months.
Former FDA head David Kessler, who now serves as the chief science officer for US President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 task force, stated “We are studying the durability of the antibody response.
He then added “I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”