Omicron Specific Vaccine Will Be Ready by March, Says Pfizer’s CEO

The company is already manufacturing some doses of the vaccine.
Ameya Paleja
A variant specific vaccine could protect against other variants tooFranckreporter/ iStock

In an interview with CNBC, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that the company's Omicron-specific vaccine would be ready in March, even though he wasn't sure whether a variant-specific vaccine was needed or how it would be used. 

Ever since it was first reported in late November, the Omicron variant has had experts worried over whether existing vaccines would be able to hold ground against its humungous set of mutations. While vaccine makers were confident that the vaccines would protect against severe disease and death, they weren't so sure about their ability to reduce symptomatic infection. 

Preliminary studies as reported in Nature as early as 8 December 2021 showed that the Omicron variant could evade the neutralizing antibodies that were expected to block the virus in the early stages of infection. This set us on the path of booster doses that increased the levels of neutralizing antibodies to combat the new COVID variant. 

Conclusions from real-world data collated by the U.K. Health Security Agency shows that Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines were only 10 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infection, 20 weeks after the second dose, even as they continued to protect against severe disease, CNBC reported. Booster doses increased the effectiveness of the vaccines in preventing symptomatic infection to up to 75 percent. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the White House had said last month that a variant-specific booster was not needed. However, in a separate interview with CNBC earlier this week, Stephane Bancel, the CEO of Moderna, another major COVID-19 vaccine supplier of the U.S., said demand for vaccines was already high. Countries such as the U.K., South Korea, and Switzerland had already booked vaccine shots for the Fall of 2022. These orders included an Omicron-specific booster that would begin clinical trials soon. 

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Speaking about Pfizer's vaccine, Bourla said that the Omicron vaccine would also target other circulating variants although he wasn't sure if it was needed. Reports from South Africa suggest that infection may have peaked before 2021 ended and other regions might also see a peak soon. So, Pfizer could aim for a vaccine that could offer better protection against infections, Bourla said although he did not know how they would be used. Pfizer, meanwhile, has started manufacturing some doses of the Omicron-specific vaccine for countries who might want it first. 

Amidst the surge of infections, Israel had authorized a fourth dose of the Pfizer vaccine to immunocompromised individuals and healthcare workers. Data suggests that neutralizing antibodies after receiving the fourth dose were fivefold higher, CNBC reported. 

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