We should all be getting a second Covid booster, according to the CEO of Pfizer, taking most of us up to four jabs, or five for those with a weakened immune system (who’ve already had one extra).
The CEO reckons it’s necessary to prevent future coronavirus infection and the pharmaceutical company is now preparing to submit supporting data to the US Food and Drug Administration.
“Right now, the way that we have seen, it is necessary, a fourth [shot] right now,” CEO Albert Bourla said in an interview with CBS News’ Face the Nation.
“The protection that you are getting from the third, it is good enough, actually quite good for hospitalisations and deaths. It’s not that good against infections but doesn’t last very long. But we are just submitting those data to the FDA, and then we will see what the experts also will say outside Pfizer.”
What’s currently happening in the UK?
In the UK, people aged 75 years and older, residents in care homes for older people, and those aged 12 years and over with a weakened immune system will be offered a spring booster.
This appointment will be offered around six months after your last dose of vaccine for those eligible (and no sooner than three months since your last jab).
So far, there are no booster announcements for the rest of the population.
Those eligible for a spring booster will receive either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (as previously available). But Pfizer is now working on a new type of booster with hopes to distribute this in the future.
How is Pfizer’s new booster different?
Pfizer is working on creating a coronavirus vaccine that would protect people against all of the known variants, including Omicron, and it would last for at least a year. Bourla likened this to an annual flu shot.
“We need to understand that Covid will not go away in the years to come. We will have to live, to learn how to live with it, and we can, as we are living with many ― so many other viruses,” he said.
Creating an annual vaccine, he added, would be like going back to the way we used to live. So, when can we expect these mega boosters for all? Well, don’t hold your breath.
While preliminary data on this vaccine’s development is promising, according to Bourla who spoke about it to CNBC’s Squawk Box, information from trial studies won’t be available until the end of the month. And after that, it could take several months before it’s decided that another booster is necessary.
Do other experts think we need more jabs?
Other experts are not so sure that another jab is needed. Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, part of the team who developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, told the BBC the current programme needs to reach other parts of the world first, such as Africa, before a fourth one can be discussed. He said that the most at risk should be identified and prioritised instead.
We spoke to Paul Hunter, a professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, who says that a fourth booster campaign might not be as wide-spread as previous ones.
“The reason why boosters won’t be needed widely is that most people whether or not vaccinated have already also had a natural infection (current estimates are a bit uncertain but three out of four people seems to be a reasonable estimate) and a past infection provides better protection than vaccine depending on how long ago it was,” he says.
“But there are still quite a few older people and more medically vulnerable people who have not yet had an infection and they remain at risk of severe disease when vaccine immunity wanes, though not as much as if they had not been vaccinated.”
Professor Hunter reckons if any jabs are offered, they should be for the vulnerable, given with their flu shot.
“So my current opinion is that the current spring fourth dose should not be broadened beyond what has already been announced but that when autumn arrives, those adults who would normally get a flu shot will also be offered a booster,” he says.
“By then we may have a modified vaccine that includes Omicron, though there is still some uncertainty how effective a modified vaccine will be at generating immunity to novel antigens associated with the new variants or will it just boost existing antibodies to older variants?”
There are a few things to think about, chief among them, the inequality in global distribution of the vaccine, and so only time will tell whether more jabs will be needed.
Experts are still learning about Covid-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. To keep up to date with health advice and cases in your area, visit gov.uk/coronavirus and nhs.uk.