People who have received the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine will “likely” need a third dose of the drug within 12 months, the pharma giant’s CEO Albert Bourla has said.
eople may also need annual shots as a booster to the vaccine, according to Mr Bourla.
This could mean hundreds of thousands of Irish people will need to get an extra shot in the next 12 months.
Ireland’s vaccination rollout has relied heavily on Pfizer with 806,328 doses administered, almost three quarters (74pc) of all 1.1m doses, according to latest HSE data.
“A likely scenario is that there will be likely a need for a third dose, somewhere between six and 12 months and then from there, there will be an annual revaccination, but all of that needs to be confirmed. And again, the variants will play a key role,” Mr Bourla told CNBC.
“It is extremely important to suppress the pool of people that can be susceptible to the virus”.
The CEO’s view is due to the fact that it is unclear how long protection from Covid-19 lasts once a person is fully vaccinated.
Pfizer’s vaccine was found to be 95pc effective in preventing severe disease for at least six months after the second dose.
Researchers into vaccination efficacy have said more data is needed to determine whether the mRNA (fizer and Moderna) vaccines offer protection beyond six months.
Americans should expect to receive booster shots for vaccines, the head of US President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 response team, David Kessler told US lawmakers yesterday.
“We don’t know everything at this moment,” he told the US House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis.
“We are studying the durability of the antibody response.
“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 only, I think we should expect that we may have to boost.”
Ireland’s Pfizer supplies come from the production site in Puurs, Belgium, where its 3,100 staff have been working around the clock during the pandemic.
Luke Van Steenwinkel, site lead at the Puurs plant, told the Irish Independent earlier this month: “We are working 24 hours, seven days a week. Our engineering department is also working on the scale-up.”
Real-life data from Israel in particular is showing the vaccine is 97pc effective in preventing people developing symptomatic disease.
Paul Reid, head of Pfizer in Ireland, also told this publication there were also indications it may be effective in reducing transmission of the virus. However, more studies are needed to confirm this.
The challenge now is to try to stay one step ahead of the virus and to protect as much of the population as possible.
One of the developments is a potential vaccine for 12- to 15-year-olds, which, if approved, could potentially be ready some time around the first term of the next academic year.
Mr Reid said the company hopes to submit data to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) as soon as possible for approval. It would involve two doses, as for adults.
Work is also under way on a trialling a vaccine for children aged 6 months to 11 years old.
If “safety and immunogenicity is confirmed, and pending authorisation or approval from regulators, we hope the vaccine could be available to these younger children between the ages of 11 and 6 months by early 2022.”
The big threat for Ireland and other countries are the new mutations of the virus, which could make vaccines less effective and leave authorities in a battle to control the spread again.
Scientists are working on booster shots which would provide protection from some of these strains.
“We need to keep a step ahead. We are looking at a third dose of vaccine as possible option.”
The Pfizer vaccine is effective against the UK strain, which is the most dominant here.
Two studies this month indicated that the Pfizer vaccine looks to offer 100pc protection against the South African variant, and is most likely highly protective against the variant that originated in Brazil.
In the first in-human evidence of how the vaccine protects against variants, research published by the company showed the vaccine is 100pc effective in preventing Covid-19 cases in South Africa – where the South African variant is now common.
Further trials are needed involving more people.
The research was part of a larger, phase three clinical trial also showing the vaccine was highly effective even after six months.
However, it is still unclear how long the protection of the vaccine lasts.
“The vaccine was developed in less than a year and we are less than 100 days after starting to vaccinate people.
“The goal now is to vaccinate as many adults as possible.
“The vaccine is just one of the tools to curb the spread of the virus. We also need to heed the public health advice on other measures.”
The fact that there has been so little vaccine hesitancy here has to be in part due to the rigour of the European Medicines Agency in assessing Covid-19 vaccines’ efficacy and safety before they were approved for use, he suggested.
The feedback is that the Pfizer vaccine is safe since the roll-out began and that side effects are in the expected range.
The latest safety data for the vaccine, according to the European Medicines Agency, are in line with the known benefit-risk profile.
Mr Reid said that Pfizer now has an agreement to supply 40 million doses of vaccine to 92 underdeveloped countries on a not-for-profit basis.
It is being distributed through the Covax scheme, which aims to ensure vaccines are shared fairly among all nations, rich and poor.
Additional reporting: Reuters