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Pfizer CEO sees annual virus jab rather than frequent boosters

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla poses for pictures during the inauguration ceremony of the company’s new center for Digital Innovation and Business Operations and Services, in Thessaloniki, on Oct 12, 2021. (SAKIS MITROLIDIS / AFP)

JERUSALEM / OTTAWA / ITALY – Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on Saturday that an annual COVID-19 vaccine would be preferable to more frequent booster shots in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

Pfizer/BioNtech’s COVID-19 vaccine has shown to be effective against severe disease and death caused by the heavily-mutated Omicron variant but less effective in preventing transmission.

With cases soaring, some countries have expanded COVID-19 vaccine booster programs or shortened the gap between shots as governments scramble to shore up protection

With cases soaring, some countries have expanded COVID-19 vaccine booster programs or shortened the gap between shots as governments scramble to shore up protection. 

In an interview with Israel’s N12 News, Bourla was asked whether he sees booster shots being administered every four to five months on a regular basis.

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“This will not be a good scenario. What I’m hoping (is) that we will have a vaccine that you will have to do once a year,” Bourla said.

“Once a year – it is easier to convince people to do it. It is easier for people to remember.

“So from a public health perspective, it is an ideal situation. We are looking to see if we can create a vaccine that covers Omicron and doesn’t forget the other variants and that could be a solution,” Bourla said.

Bourla has said Pfizer could be ready to file for approval for a redesigned vaccine to fight Omicron, and mass produce it, as soon as March.

Citing three studies, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Friday that a third dose of an mRNA vaccine is key to fighting Omicron, providing 90 percent protection against hospitalization.

A preliminary study published by Israel’s Sheba Medical Center on Monday found that a fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but was likely not enough to fend off Omicron. Nonetheless, a second booster was still advised for risk groups, Sheba said.

Canada

Canada confirmed 13,555 new COVID-19 cases Saturday afternoon, elevating its national caseload to 2,905,560 with 32,502 deaths, CTV reported.

Ontario, the most populous province, reported 6,473 new cases with 47 additional deaths while Quebec, another populous province, announced 5,547 new cases with 68 new deaths.

Both provinces reported a drop in COVID-19-related hospitalizations but a jump in the number of patients being treated in intensive care units (ICU) on Saturday.

ALSO READ: Canada’s virus cases seen falling if restrictions maintained

Ontario reported nearly 600 ICU patients while Quebec confirmed 275 ICU patients.

A total of 10,745 patients with COVID-19 were being treated in hospitals across Canada on Saturday, still surpassing peak daily numbers in all previous waves of the pandemic.

The daily COVID-19 case number, positivity rate and wastewater surveillance issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada showed that the Omicron-driven wave has peaked in the country.

Despite signs of stability in the patient numbers in some provinces, the toll on hospitals remains heavy and many hospitals across Canada are under intense strain, said Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer.

With lab-based testing capacity deeply strained and increasingly restricted, medical experts said Canada’s true COVID-19 case counts are likely far higher than reported.

Hospitalization data at the regional level is also evolving, with several provinces saying they will report figures that separate the number of people in hospital because of COVID-19 from those in hospital for another medical issue who also test positive for COVID-19.

Italy

Italy reported 171,263 COVID-19 related cases on Saturday, against 179,106 the day before, the health ministry said, while the number of one-day deaths fell to 333 from 373.

Italy has registered 143,296 deaths linked to COVID-19 since its outbreak emerged in February 2020, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth highest in the world. The country has reported 9.8 million cases to date.

ALSO READ: WHO studies evidence of virus antibodies found in Italy in 2019

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 – not including those in intensive care – stood at 19,442 on Saturday, down from 19,485 a day earlier.

There were 121 new admissions to intensive care units, down from 148 on Friday. The total number of intensive care patients decreased to 1,676 from a previous 1,707.

Some 1.04 million tests for COVID-19 were carried out in the past day, compared with a previous 1.12 million, the health ministry said.

Reference