Pfizer CEO says two doses of Covid vaccine are not enough for omicron

Pfizer CEO Albert Borla speaks during a press conference with the President of the European Commission after a visit to oversee production of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine at the plant of US drugmaker Pfizer, in Bürs, on April 23, 2021.

John Theiss | AFP | Getty Images

Pfizer CEO Albert Borla said Monday that two doses of the company’s vaccine may not provide strong protection against infection from the Covid omicron variant, and the original shots have lost some of their effectiveness in preventing hospitalization.

Burla, in an interview at JPMorgan’s healthcare conference, emphasized the importance of the third shot to strengthening people’s protection against omicrons.

“Two doses are not enough for Omicron,” Borla said. “The third dose of the current vaccine is to provide very good protection against mortality, and decent protection from hospitalization.”

Borla said Omicron is a more difficult target than previous variants. Omicron, which has dozens of mutations, can evade some of the protection offered by the two original Pfizer shots.

“We saw with a second dose very clearly that the first thing we lost was protection against infection,” Borla said. “But then a couple of months later, what was very strong in hospital treatment also went down. And I think that’s what everyone worries about.”

Real-world data from the UK found two doses of the vaccine to be 52% effective in preventing hospitalization 25 weeks after receiving the second shot, according to data from the UK’s Health Security Agency.

Two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines are only 10% effective in preventing infection from oomicron 20 weeks after the second dose, according to UK data.

On the other hand, a booster dose is 75% effective in preventing symptomatic infection and 88% effective in preventing hospitalization, according to the data.

However, Borla said it is unclear how long the booster dose will provide protection against Covid. The UK’s Health Security Agency also found boosters to be only 40% to 50% effective against infection 10 weeks after receiving the shot.

“The question mark is how long this protection lasts with the third dose,” Borla said.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that some people with weakened immune systems receive four doses, three initial and one booster dose. Israel released the fourth doses of Pfizer for people over 60 years old. Israel found that fourth doses increase protective antibodies fivefold.

Burla told CNBC earlier on Monday that Pfizer will have a vaccine specifically targeting Omicron ready in March, though he said it was not clear if it was needed.

He also told CNBC that more testing needs to be done to determine whether fourth doses are necessary.

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Andrew Naughtie

News reporter and author at @websalespromo