Pfizer CEO says third dose of vaccine 'likely' needed within 1 year

The CEO of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer said during a televised interview Thursday that people will "likely" need a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC that the shot would need to be administered within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated and that, possibly, every year.

"It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus," said Bourla to CNBC

Earlier this month, Pfizer announced that clinical trials have found its vaccine continued to be effective against COVID-19 up to six months later.

In January, Pfizer announced that while its current vaccine showed no significant impairments in testing against both the U.K. and South Africa variants, the company was working to tweak its current vaccine recipe and is preparing to create its own second-generation vaccine.

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Experts have said it’s likely that the novel coronavirus may never go away, but may instead turn into a seasonal annoyance like the flu, requiring regular inoculations to protect people from future outbreaks.

In an April 6 interview with FOX TV Stations, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said research is still on- going to determine the effectiveness of current vaccines against new variants.

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He explained that it’s difficult to compare the two vaccines because the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines "is substantially greater than even the best of the influenza."

Fauci expressed concern over emerging variants of the novel coronavirus, but expressed confidence in current studies that indicate that some variants are no match for COVID-19 vaccines.

"You know, variants are a risk to anyone who is not fully protected against it," Fauci said. "So, for example, there are some variants – like B.1.1.7 – that vaccines cover them very well. There are other variants, like B.1.351 from South Africa, where protection against any symptomatic disease diminishes by a fair amount, but protection against severe disease, hospitalization and deaths is very good."

"So what might happen is that when you get these new variants, some of them may not be protected against when you’re talking about mild-to-moderate disease, but at the same time, people are not going to get severely ill and wind up dying," Fauci explained.

Fauci said that it is entirely "feasible" that there may not be a need for COVID-19 booster shots, but he said the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are currently planning for the worst.

"You want to be prepared in case you have to," Fauci said. "So we’re making the assumption that we’re going to have to boost people, but we may not have to."

In Connecticut, health officials are looking into the possibility of having to eventually administer booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccines in nursing homes, while also vaccinating new residents and staff who are coming into the facilities without having had a shot, Gov. Ned Lamont said on April 5.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration and a Connecticut resident, said April 5 that it’s "quite likely that you’re going to want to give another dose of vaccine, at least to some portion of the population heading into the fall."

He noted that the most vulnerable portions of the state’s population, people living in nursing homes and people over the age of 70, got their shots in December, January and early February.

According to a recent study from Pfizer, the company’s COVID-19 vaccine maintains more than 90% efficacy at six months after receiving the second dose. Moderna released similar findings on the efficacy of its own vaccine on April 6.

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks said the company should be able to provide booster shots for protection against COVID-19 variants and mutations by the end of this year, Reuters reported last week.

Speaking during a program for the Economic Club of New York, Zaks said the booster shots Moderna is testing show a confident level of protection against coronavirus variants, according to Reuters.

But the current dearth of data on vaccine efficacy after the six-month mark illustrates how much remains unknown more than a year into the ever-changing pandemic.

The first person in the U.S. to receive a COVID-19 vaccination got their shot in December. That first vaccination gave way to an all-out effort to get shots into the arms of beleaguered front-line health care workers, who faced wave after wave of critically ill coronavirus patients filling the halls of ICUs across the U.S.

For those health care workers who were among the earliest vaccinated, the existing data on the length of vaccine efficacy paints an incomplete picture of how long they can expect to be fully protected against the virus. Fauci said it’s just too soon to tell.

"We don’t know the answer to that for the simple reason that we don't know what the durability of the protection against the standard virus is," Fauci said. "The most recent reports said at least six months but it might be much longer than it could be years for all we know."

The Associated Press and FOX Television Stations’ Austin Williams contributed to this report.