Pfizer boss warns vaccines not effective against Omicron

Two doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine may not be enough to protect against the Omicron variant, the CEO has advised.

Albert Bourla indicated that a third booster dose would definitely be needed to counter Omicron, and says Pfizer’s original vaccine has lost some of its efficacy in dealing with the new variant.

“The two doses, they’re not enough for omicron” Mr Bourla said in a speech to JP Morgan’s healthcare conference.

“The third dose of the current vaccine is providing quite good protection against deaths, and decent protection against hospitalisations.

“We have seen with a second dose very clearly that the first thing that we lost was the protection against infections. But then two months later, what used to be very strong in hospitalisation also went down.”

Read: AstraZeneca drug shows success treating severe COVID

Pfizer has announced that it is manufacturing an Omicron-specific vaccine, but that it won’t be ready until March this year.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt claims the government has already secured priority access to the Omicron vaccine, although Pfizer representatives were unable (or unwilling) to confirm or deny the arrangement.

“He has requested that Pfizer prioritise supply to Australia as soon as possible and that Pfizer continue to keep the Australian Department of Health closely informed of any scientific developments,” a spokesperson for the minister told Business Insider.

“Our existing contract for 60 million doses of Pfizer this year includes the capacity to access any variant specific or children’s doses within the 60 million as needed.”

Read: Peptide-based drugs could reduce severity of COVID-19

The government has come under fire for its dealings with Pfizer over the course of the pandemic, with documents released under freedom-of-information laws revealing the health minister refused an invitation from Pfizer executives for a meeting in June 2020.

A deal with the company wasn’t reached until November of that year, and it would be a further 12 months before Australia’s vaccine rollout program was truly functioning as intended.

Pfizer has also previously announced it has begun manufacturing a pill, called Paxlovid, to treat mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19. The drug was recently granted approval by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Paxlovid is not intended to prevent a patient from contracting COVID, rather it aims to target the virus inside the body and neutralise the virus’s ability to replicate.

Some national governments, such as that of South Korea, have already begun importing supplies of Paxlovid for their citizens.

Read: Two new drugs could turn the COVID tide

“In light of Omicron’s much higher infectiousness, the medication should play a meaningful role in restraining the number of patients who would develop critical symptoms even if the strain is relatively less severe,” a spokesperson for the South Korean government said.

Another pharmaceutical giant, US company Merck, has also introduced a COVID pill that attacks the virus’s ability to replicate, reducing the severity of symptoms in patients and preventing hospitalisations.

Molnupiravir is under consideration for approval by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). Even so, the federal government has placed an order for 15,000 doses.

Should the government be doing more to secure these vital medical supplies? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Brad Lockyer

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