In a Monday interview with NBC, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said a vaccine tailored for the omicron variant “will be ready in March.”
“We are working on a new version of our vaccine, a version that will be effective against omicron as well,” said Bourla. “The hope is that we will achieve something that will have way, way better protection against infections – particularly against infections, because the protection against hospitalisation and severe diseases, it is reasonable right now with the current vaccine, as long as you are having, let’s say, the third dose.”
The rapid timeline has actually been long in the making. As we reported in November, both Pfizer and Moderna had, since delta, been working with regulators to streamline the process for approving a booster vaccine for a new variant.
Bourla also spoke of an “exponential” increase in production of Pfizer’s anti-COVID pill (paxlovid). The company is producing 200,000 doses in January and hopes to produce 6 million doses in March and 24 million in June.
Meanwhile, speaking to Bloomberg, also on Monday, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel was more circumspect. Bancel said they hope to see real-world data – “we’re going to mix and match the blood samples from people with different vaccines” – to see what will be the best combination vaccine for the omicron variant and any of the other mutations already out there that omicron may combine with in future.
“We are going to be, in a couple of weeks, in the clinic with an omicron-specific variant booster,” said Bancel. “We are going to look at combinations as well, because we are not only trying to protect people against omicron. I think it’s important to stay ahead of the virus.“
Bancel also said Moderna hopes to manufacture 2-3 billion vaccine doses this year around the world. This includes licensing production to Samsung Biologics in Korea, in the wake of Samsung’s USD$200 billion R&D announcement last year.
The Moderna CEO speculated that the pandemic endgame may be an annual COVID booster each autumn. To that end, Moderna is intending to develop an mRNA-based flu vaccine that can be combined into an annual booster with the COVID vaccine.
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