Underlining the uncertainty surrounding SARS-CoV-2 and its many mutant offshoots (while offering a helpful reminder that Pfizer and Moderna are looking to maximize profits for their newest line of business) a group of scientists from around the world have banded together to push back against advanced marketing of COVID-19 booster shots and annual vaccines.
In what could be good news for the market's outlook on global growth, more than a dozen "influential infectious disease and vaccine development expert said there is growing evidence that a first round of global vaccinations may offer enduring protection" from COVID, and that the booster shots and flu-style annual vaccinations touted by Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla might not be necessary.
Additionally, some of the scientists "expressed concern" that public expectations about the vaccine "are being set by executives" and not other scientists. If pressed, we suspect many of these same executives would acknowledge that they have a "fiduciary duty" to their shareholders to maximize returns, which is why Pfizer is looking to transform its COVID vaccine business into a "durable business line."
Some of these scientists expressed concern that public expectations around COVID-19 boosters are being set by pharmaceutical executives rather than health specialists, although many agreed that preparing for such a need as a precaution was prudent.
They fear a push by wealthy nations for repeat vaccination as early as this year will deepen the divide with poorer countries that are struggling to buy vaccines and may take years to inoculate their citizens even once.
"We don't see the data yet that would inform a decision about whether or not booster doses are needed," said Kate O'Brien, director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals at the World Health Organization (WHO).
O'Brien said the WHO is forming a panel of experts to assess all variant and vaccine efficacy data and recommend changes to vaccination programs as needed.
Pfizer Inc Chief Executive Albert Bourla has said people will "likely" need a booster dose of the company's vaccine every 12 months - similar to an annual flu shot – to maintain high levels of immunity against the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants.
Former Obama Administration CDC head Dr. Tom Frieden was especially vehement: "There is zero, and I mean zero, evidence to suggest that that is the case."
"It's completely inappropriate to say that we're likely to need an annual booster, because we have no idea what the likelihood of that is," Frieden, who now leads the global public health initiative Resolve to Save Lives, said of Pfizer's assertions on boosters.
Unfortunately for countries like India and South Africa, which are crying out for more vaccines, the US, EU and Israel have already made deals with Pfizer and Moderna to acquire more vaccines later this year to keep on hand in case they need to be deployed as boosters. This means that developing economies, which have been left to duke it out in the international market, will have less supply to go around.
But outsiders aren't the only ones criticizing the scaremongering about vaccine boosters. Dr. William Gruber, Pfizer's senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, reportedly told Reuters that the predictions for yearly boosters were based on "a little evidence" of a decline in immunity over those six months, evidence which was since been countered with research showing antibody retention is more durable.
A Moderna scientist, meanwhile, said that boosters may be needed, and governments are right to stockpile jabs, while noting that ""All governments are in conversations with (Moderna) and other companies about boosters," he said.
We can't help but wonder: if the vaccine IP waiver proposal that India and South Africa have brought to the WTO does pass, and tech transfers are part of the deal, will 'Big Pharma' change its tune about the need to stockpile boosters?