- At a virtual Davos economic forum, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said there’s a “high likelihood” that COVID-19 vaccines will become ineffective in the future.
- Bourla said the company is working to ensure it can produce a high efficacy vaccine in 100 days or less, a radically sped up development timeline.
- Former BARDA director Richard Hatchett also stressed the need for governments to see infectious diseases as an “existential threat to our society.”
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Speaking at the virtual 2021 Davos World Economic Forum, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he believed there is a “high possibility” that vaccines will not be effective in the future, although it hasn’t happened yet.
“It’s a very high likelihood that one day that will happen,” Bourla said.
Bourla said Pfizer is working toward speeding up vaccine research and development in the event that happens. Bourla wants to cut the time from recognizing a pandemic-scale infectious disease threat to getting a vaccine authorized to 100 days or less – a timeline even shorter than the 300 day goal put forth last year by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed. The company intends to maintain its vaccine candidate’s 95% efficacy, he said, in the face of evolving variants.
We’re starting to understand how variants could impact vaccines
In the last 24 hours, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax have both released efficacy results of their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
Although the initial outlook for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose seemed promising, its overall efficacy hovers at just 66%, with even less efficacy against the B.1.351 variant from South Africa. US-based Novavax’s vaccine showed 89% efficacy in trials in the United Kingdom, where another more contagious variant has evolved, but dropped to under 50% in its small South Africa trial.
Comparatively, Pfizer’s vaccine, made jointly with BioNTech, has not been tested against either real-life COVID-19 variant. However, the company released results Wednesday showing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked against lab-made “pseudoviruses” engineered to have the same mutations as the UK and South African variants.
Bourla was one of four speakers at a panel discussing the need for collaboration between business and governments to present global pandemic and combat future threats to human health.
Richard Hatchett, the CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, who also spoke on the panel, stressed the need to be prepared for future recurrences.
Referencing the less than 60% efficacy of both the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax against the new South African coronavirus variant, Hatchett said the world’s only hope of getting ahead of the virus is to control its global circulation.
“Governments must recognize emerging infectious diseases and pandemic threads are an existential threat to our society,” Hatchett, a former BARDA director, said. “They are an emergent property of the way we live.”
If we want society at large to continue as it did before COVID-19, Hatchett said governments must make long-term, sustained investments in preparing for future pandemics.
In closing remarks, he said the world should turn its sights on other coronaviruses and other viral families that may evolve to have higher mortality rates than SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
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