Two doses of the Pfizer vaccine are not enough to stop the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19, and its ability to prevent hospitalization has declined, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla acknowledged this week.
“We have seen with a second dose very clearly that the first thing that we lost was the protection against infections,” Bourla said. “But then two months later, what used to be very strong in hospitalization also went down. And I think this is what everybody’s worried about.”
The CEO also said an Omicron-specific vaccine from his company should be ready by March.
Bourla added in a recent interview that the current third shot provides "quite good" protection against death, and "decent" protection against hospitalization — a far cry from promises of prevention of COVID-19 from a double dose of vaccines in general by the U.S. FDA last August and more recent promises by political leaders of more robust protection against hospitalization and serious illness.
Also this week, the World Health Organization's Technical Advisory Group (TAG-CO-VAC) has stated that new vaccines should be developed to counter Omicron and that in the interim, existing vaccines may have to be updated to help stop its transmission.
"The TAG-CO-VAC considers that COVID-19 vaccines that have high impact on prevention of infection and transmission, in addition to the prevention of severe disease and death, are needed and should be developed," says the WHO statement.
"Until such vaccines are available, and as the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, the composition of current COVID-19 vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by Variants Of Concern, including Omicron and future variants."
To protect against Omicron and future variants, the group says COVID-19 vaccines need to "be based on strains that are genetically and antigenically close to the circulating SARS-CoV-2 variant(s); in addition to protection against severe disease and death, be more effective in protection against infection, thus lowering community transmission and the need for stringent and broad-reaching public health and social measures; elicit immune responses that are broad, strong, and long-lasting in order to reduce the need for successive booster doses."