Albert Bourla, the CEO of Pfizer, said a COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the Omicron variant of the virus as well as already circulating variants “will be ready in March.”
“This vaccine will be ready in March. I don’t know how if we will need it, I don’t know how it will be used, but it will be ready, and in fact, we [are] already starting manufacturing some of these quantities at risk,” Bourla told CNBC on Monday.
Separately, at J.P. Morgan’s annual health care conference, which is being held virtually, Bourla said Pfizer is ready to file for U.S. regulatory approval for the redesigned COVID-19 vaccine, and that the company has built up ample manufacturing capacity, such that it will not be a problem to switch immediately.
COVID-19 vaccines eventually could be an annual shot for most people, Bourla said, and some high-risk groups might be eligible to receive the shots more often than that.
Omicron, which was first reported by South Africa in November, quickly overtook the Delta variant to become the most dominant strain in the world.
Bourla previously told CNBC in December 2021 that he believed a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine would be needed. He said that he had earlier thought it could be taken 12 months after the third dose, but the timeline may need to be moved up with the emergence of Omicron.
On Monday, Bourla told CNBC that more tests would be required to see whether fourth vaccine doses would be necessary. “I don’t know if there’s a need for a fourth booster, that’s something that needs to be tested, and I know Israel has already started some of these experiments and we will also conduct some of these experiments to make sure that if needed, we use it,” he said.
Israel in late December 2021 approved the rollout of a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose, from Pfizer-BioNTech, for immunosuppressed people. It is holding back on approving the fourth vaccine dose for those over age 60 and health care workers.
Last week, Stephane Bancel, CEO of rival COVID-19 vaccine manufacturer Moderna, said people may need a fourth shot (a second booster) in the fall, because the efficacy of the first booster is likely to decline over the next few months.
Currently available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States are the messenger RNA-based (mRNA) vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and the non-replicating viral vector vaccine from Johnson & Johnson. Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine is currently the only one available to those under 18 in the United States, with emergency use authorization granted for ages 12 and above.
A current advisory from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) outlines the booster intervals available for different vaccines.
A report from the UK Health Security Agency (pdf) found that “Among those who had received 2 doses of Pfizer or Moderna effectiveness [against symptomatic disease] dropped from around 65 to 70 [percent] down to around 10 [percent] by 20 weeks after the second dose.”
The report says of the first booster dose: “2 to 4 weeks after a booster dose vaccine effectiveness ranged from around 65 to 75 [percent], dropping to 55 to 70 [percent] at 5 to 9 weeks and 40 to 50 [percent] from 10+ weeks after the booster.”
Data suggest that vaccine protection against hospitalization due to Omicron “is much greater than that against symptomatic disease, in particular after a booster dose, where vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation is close to 90 [percent],” according to the report.
Pfizer on Monday announced three deals to broaden the use of the mRNA technology that its COVID-19 vaccine was based on, including a deal worth as much as $1.35 billion with gene-editing specialist Beam Therapeutics.
The company is also seeking to collaborate with Codex DNA Inc, to potentially enable more efficient development of mRNA-based vaccines, therapeutics, and other biopharma products.
It also has a private biotech Acuitas Therapeutics will focus on the use of the Vancouver-based company’s lipid nanoparticle technology for developing up to 10 vaccines or therapeutics.
Reuters contributed to this report.