CEO believes COVID shots will become yearly affair

Pfizer to test a tweaked vaccine aimed at defeating South African virus strain

US pharmaceutical firm, together with its German partner BioNTech, also looking at effects of a third dose of existing inoculation

An employee works behind a window with a message taped to it at Pfizer Manufacturing in Puurs, Belgium on February 25, 2021. (Virginia Mayo/AP)
An employee works behind a window with a message taped to it at Pfizer Manufacturing in Puurs, Belgium on February 25, 2021. (Virginia Mayo/AP)

WASHINGTON — Pfizer and BioNTech said Thursday they are studying adding a third dose to their vaccine regime and testing a new version targeting the South African variant of the coronavirus.

As countries around the world rush to vaccinate people, concerns have risen that more transmissible variants such as the one first detected in South Africa or another in Britain are more resistant to existing vaccines.

In one study, the US and German pharmaceutical firms said they would look at what happens when people are given a third dose of their two-shot vaccine, six to 12 months after the booster.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told NBC News on Thursday: “We believe that the third dose will raise the antibody response 10- to 20- fold.”

They said in a statement they are also talking to regulators about testing a modified version of their original vaccine to address the South African variant known as B.1.351.

“We are taking multiple steps to act decisively and be ready in case a strain becomes resistant to the protection afforded by the vaccine,” Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, said in a statement.

Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 26, 2019. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

The South African variant is considered among the more dangerous of current mutations because it evades some of the blocking action of antibodies that target the older coronavirus strain.

That means people who were infected with the classic strain are more susceptible to reinfection, and research has also shown the variant has partly reduced the protection of the current generation of vaccines.

Bourla also told NBC he believed COVID-19 vaccination would become a standard yearly affair that tackles the latest variants.

“Every year, you need to go to get your flu vaccine,” Bourla said. “It’s going to be the same with COVID. In a year, you will have to go and get your annual shot for COVID to be protected.”

Moderna, the other company whose vaccine has been approved for emergency use in America, said Wednesday that doses of its new COVID-19 vaccine candidate aimed at the South African coronavirus variant had been shipped to the US National Institutes of Health for testing.

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