Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Monday that the development of a retooled Omicron vaccine specifically targeted to the newest coronavirus variant is the “most likely scenario” in the future fight against the disease.
Making his remarks at the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference on Monday, Bourla said Pfizer and the German firm BioNTech SE are in the process of developing both an Omicron vaccine and an inoculation that would include both the previous vaccine as well as the specifically-targeted shot.
Later, in an appearance on CNBC, Bourla expanded on the work being done right now by Pfizer, the company which produced the world’s first approved coronavirus vaccine, and whether or not there is a need for additional boosters beyond the third shot.
“We are doing everything we can so that we can stay ahead of the virus. I don’t know if there is any need for a fourth booster. That is something that needs to be tested,” Bourla stated.
Omicron vaccine will be ready by March; fourth booster may not be needed
“I know that Israel is already doing some of these experiments and we will also conduct some of these experiments, to make sure that it’s needed. I don’t think we should be doing something that is not needed,” the CEO cautioned.
Bourla explained that his company is now “working on a new version of our vaccine, a version that will be effective against Omicron as well as (the other variants). The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection against infections. The protection against hospitalizations and severe disease is reasonable right now with the current vaccines right now, with the third dose,” he stated.
“This vaccine will be ready in March,” Bourla declared, adding “I don’t know if we will need it or when and how it will be used, but it will be ready.
“And in fact, we are already manufacturing some quantities of it. So if there is a need for this vaccine, we will have some immediately — because so many governments would like to see it immediately.”
“We are going really, really big” with Paxlovid pill production
Bourla told CNBC that his company may be ready to start the approval process for its redesigned Omicron vaccine as soon as March.
The Thessaloniki-born CEO mentioned, however, that the pressure now is on Pfizer’s pill called Paxlovid, the first oral treatment for Covid-19 to be authorized by the FDA. “Right now, this is the direction in which the efforts of most of the governments is moving,” he stated, adding “They are all pressing orders and some of them are discussing right now about stockpiling. We are waiting eagerly to see the results from the countries where it is already circulating, in real-world data; we have the US, we have Israel, a lot of places.”
Referring to the supplies of the pill, which has been hard to come by since its approval, Bourla was effusive in his expectations for the future.
From the initial supply of just 265,000 courses of the oral drug that are available now in January, he says, “It’s going to go exponentially up month after month. So it’s not going to be just ten percent or twenty percent… it’s going to be (a multiple of) two or three times… we should have at least six million (courses) by March.”
“Then we are going really, really big,” Bourla declared. “We should be having another 24 million in the next quarter… Because there are discussions about stockpiling, we are trying to understand how how we could scale up even more.”
“The only solution will be the pill” for vaccine skeptics
Asked if a tendency of some in the public to become skeptical about the vaccine boosters as increasing numbers of breakthrough cases occur, Bourla admitted” I think this is a real risk. There is always an element of people getting tired.”
He acknowledged that there is deep division between those in society who believe in vaccines and those who refuse them outright. “I think this situation has unfortunately formed two camps, two different mindsets. There is a mindset that is fanatic — they don’t want the vaccine. And there is a mindset with other people that they want maximum protection.
“I believe that the element in this segment of the people who do believe in the value of the vaccine — they will follow, by and large, the instructions of the healthcare authorities and their physicians.
“The other camp, which is the ones who are very skeptical — they will remain skeptical, and for them, unfortunately, the only solution will be the pill if they get the disease. And then in between there is a a number of people smaller segment that can go one way or another, and this is where education needs to happen.”