- Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said there was a “high likelihood” current COVID-19 vaccines would become ineffective.
- Bourla said the company was working to ensure it could produce a high-efficacy vaccine in 100 days or fewer in the event that this happens.
- Ex-BARDA Director Richard Hatchett stressed governments needed to see infectious diseases as an “existential threat to our society.”
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Speaking at the virtual 2021 Davos World Economic Forum, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he believed there was a “high possibility” that current coronavirus vaccines would not be effective against new strains of the virus in the future, though that hasn’t happened yet.
“It’s a very high likelihood that one day that will happen,” Bourla said.
To prepare, Pfizer is planning to be able to create new versions of its vaccine quickly, he added. The goal is for those shots to have the same 95% efficacy against the coronavirus as Pfizer’s current shot, he said.
Bourla said Pfizer was working toward speeding up vaccine research and development. He wants to cut the time from recognising a pandemic-scale infectious-disease threat to getting a vaccine authorised to 100 days or fewer â€” a timeline even shorter than the 300-day goal put forth last year by the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed.
He also emphasised that any vacccine created in a sped-up process would still need to meet the same high standards of regulatory scrutiny to ensure the public is confident in the vaccine.
We’re starting to understand how variants could affect vaccines
In the past 24 hours, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax both released the efficacy results of their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.
Though the initial outlook for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose shot seemed promising, its overall efficacy hovers at just 66%. It’s less effective against the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa. US-based Novavax’s vaccine showed 89% efficacy in trials in the United Kingdom, where another more-contagious variant has been identified, but dropped to under 50% in its small South Africa trial.
Pfizer’s vaccine, made jointly with BioNTech, has not been tested against either real-life COVID-19 variant. But the company released results Wednesday showing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked against lab-made “pseudoviruses” engineered to have the same mutations as the variants first found in the UK and South Africa.
Bourla was one of four speakers at a panel discussing the need for collaboration between businesses and governments to 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 recurrences.
Hatchett, referencing the less than 60% efficacy of both the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax against the new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, said the world’s only hope of getting ahead of the virus was to control its global circulation.
“Governments must recognise emerging infectious diseases and pandemic threads are an existential threat to our society,” Hatchett, a former Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority 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, governments must make sustained investments in preparing for future pandemics, Hatchett said.
In closing remarks, he said the world should turn its sights on other coronaviruses and other viral families that may evolve to have higher death rates than SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
This article has been updated to add additional context to Bourla’s remarks about the need for new versions of Pfizer’s shot.