As American waits for the CDC to finish a review of blood-clotting risks associated with Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourlas has warned reporters that recipients of the Pfizer vaccine - the most widely distributed jab in the US - will "likely" need to receive a third "booster" shot within 12 months of being vaccinated, and possibly as early as six months after receiving their second dose.
The news is hardly a surprise. Comments and rumors about the need for booster shots have been reported by the US media since late last year. But on Thursday, Bourlas said a booster shout would likely be necessary, and that patients may need to be vaccinated against COVID annually, similar to the way that flu vaccines are developed and distributed.
"It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus," he told CNBC's Bertha Coombs during an event with CVS Health. Bourlas added that vaccines will need to be used to combat not just COVID, but the evolving mutant strains - or "variants" - like B.1.1.7, known as the "Kent" strain, which has been blamed for some of the botched rollout in the US.
Bourlas isn't the only major public health official warning about the need for booster shots. On Thursday, the Biden administration’s Covid response chief science officer David Kessler said Americans should expect to receive booster shots to protect against coronavirus variants. He noted that while the current crop of COVID jabs is highly effective, they could be "challenged" by the new variants.
New data released earlier this month by Pfizer said that updated data from its clinical trial showed its vaccine to be highly effective six months after the second dose. The data was based on more than 12K vaccinated participants. More data is still needed to determine whether protections last after six months, however. Pfizer and German partner BioNTech began studying a third dose of their vaccine in late February.
The booster shot is aimed at protecting against future variants, which may be better at evading antibodies from vaccine than earlier strains of the virus. About 144 volunteers will be given the third dose, mostly those who participated in the vaccine's early-stage U.S. testing last year.
"We don’t know everything at this moment," he told House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Response. "We are studying the durability of the antibody response," he said. "It seems strong but there is some waning of that and no doubt the variants challenge...they make these vaccines work harder. So I think for planning purposes, planning purposes only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost."
Bourla said the company would likely try out the third doses first on a select group of individuals who participated in the original studies.
In other news, Pfizer has been focusing on trials of its COVID jab in children as it aims to become the first to be approved for use in minors. Currently, the pharma giant is testing the jab on children and babies younger than one year old.