Dr Albert Bourla, head of Pfizer, said Covid jabs could be needed every year
Britons could need a Covid vaccine every year to maintain ‘very high’ levels of protection, Pfizer’s boss said today.
Dr Albert Bourla, who leads the UK’s top vaccine supplier, suggested in an interview that top-up shots could be needed for years to come.
But the chief executive denied profiteering from the jabs — instead insisting each was sold to the UK for about as much as a ‘takeaway meal’.
He claimed they were being sent to poorer countries at cost.
The UK has ordered another 114million doses that can be tweaked to fight off variants — including 54million Pfizer jabs.
Officials did not reveal how much the Pfizer jabs cost, but EU contracts show the bloc is spending about £16.59 per dose.
They will arrive in 2022 and 2023, suggesting plans are already being drawn up to boost the nation’s immunity for at least the next two years.
Business minister George Freeman said Britain was buying more jabs to make sure there was ‘supply’ available in case any further roll outs were needed. He added: ‘We’ve got to make sure that our citizens are safe and that the global vaccine rollout through Covax is supported.’
Vaccine manufacturers and rich nations have been accused of sparking a vaccine apartheid by pricing poorer nations out of the jabs market.
In the European Union as many as 67 per cent of people have already received two doses of the Covid vaccine, while in Africa fewer than eight per cent are double-jabbed.
South African scientists have claimed that Omicron emerged because of low vaccination rates in their country. They say other strains will emerge ‘over and over again’ until the inoculation gap is closed.
Moderna will supply 60million additional doses and Pfizer/BioNTech 54million
The above chart shows the number of vaccine doses ordered by the UK, and which orders have been donated or cancelled. It includes the latest orders of 54million more Pfizer doses and 60million Moderna dose
Asked whether fourth and fifth doses of the Covid vaccine could be dished out, Dr Bourla said they would likely be needed to maintain immunity.
He told the BBC: ‘If we have to make a guess based on everything I have seen so far, I would say that annual vaccinations…are likely to be needed to maintain a very robust and very high level of protection.’
Many countries have already launched booster drives after studies showed levels of Covid-fighting antibodies were waning in their populations around six months after they got the second dose.
The flu vaccine is already dished out annual, and tweaked every year to target the strain that is expected to be in circulation. But only around a fifth of Britons get this jab.
UK approves GSK’s Covid antibody drug that slashes risk of death and hospitalisation by nearly 80%
A second Covid antibody drug which the UK Government has ordered 100,000 doses of has been approved by Britain’s medical watchdog.
Xevudy, made by British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, was shown to slash the risk of hospitalisation or death by 79 per cent in vulnerable people.
It is given to patients considered most at-risk of developing severe disease, including elderly people and those with underlying health conditions.
The monoclonal antibody therapy works by mounting an immune response in patients too weak to make their own antibodies.
The UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) recommends that it’s given to patients within five days of testing positive for Covid.
It is administered over 30 minutes through an intravenous drip and works by binding to the Covid spike protein — which it uses to invade cells — and preventing it from multiplying in the body.
Because it targets the spike protein, it is feared that it will not be as effective against the new Omicron super-strain, that has more than 30 mutations on this part alone.
But GSK claims that preclinical data shows the drug ‘retains activity against key mutations’ of the strain.
Xevudy is the second monoclonal antibody treatment approved in the UK. In August, a monoclonal antibody therapy called Ronapreve drug was cleared for use in UK patients by medical regulators, and is now being administered to patients in NHS hospitals.
Dr Bourla was described as ‘unapologetic’ about profiting from the jabs, saying they had saved ‘millions of lives’ around the globe.
He told the BBC: ‘We have saved the global economy trillions of dollars. It is a strong incentive for innovation for the next pandemic.
‘But people will see that if they step up to the game, to bring something that saves lives and saves money, there is also a financial reward.’
Dr Bourla added that Pfizer was working on a tweaked Pfizer jab to fight the Omicron variant, but that this would take 100 days to become available.
Business minister George Freeman, asked by Sky News why the UK was buying up more vaccines when developing countries had still not been vaccinated to a high degree, said: ‘It is a balance. We’ve got another variant.
‘I think the British public would expect us to make sure that we’re providing the supply to those in the UK, which is why we’ve just procured another 114million doses, precisely to be sure we can deliver that rollout here in the UK as well.
‘This is a balance. We’ve got to make sure that our citizens are safe and that the global vaccine rollout through Covax is supported, and that’s what we’re committed to doing and that’s why today we’ve got, as part of that G7 follow-up, all the global leaders in vaccine science here in the UK at No 10 to make sure we are continuing to focus on it.
‘It is an international challenge.’
Richer countries have been accused of triggering a vaccine apartheid by buying up all doses available.
G7 countries — including the UK — have purchased more than a third of global jab stocks despite making up just 13 per cent of the population.
UN-backed scheme COVAX had aimed to pool resources from poorer nations to help them secure vaccines. It has sent 303million doses to 142 countries to date.
The US is donating 500million Pfizer doses to poorer nations, which are being sold at cost by the country.
Some 200million are expected to be delivered this year, with 300million more due in the first half of 2022.
They will go to 92 low- and middle-income countries including 55 members of the African Union.
Officials in the UK said they ramped up their orders of jabs in response to the newly discovered Omicron strain.
Their latest order is on top of the 35million additional doses of Pfizer/BioNTech jabs ordered in August for delivery in the second half of next year, and the 60million Novavax and 7.5million GSK/Sanofi doses expected in 2022.
The new deal — negotiated by the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce — ensures access to modified vaccines if they are needed to combat Omicron or future variants of concern.
It comes as ministers today unveil a major advertising campaign designed to encourage people to come forward for their third shot as soon as they are notified by the NHS.
UK could approve Covid vaccines for five to 11-year-olds ‘by Xmas’
The UK is poised to start administering Covid vaccines to primary school children as soon as Christmas amid fears of the looming Omicron wave.
Ministers have asked their independent vaccine advisers and chief scientists Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty to consider the move.
George Freeman, a business minister, told Sky News today: ‘We’re looking at the science on that and the balance of the rollout.
‘(Sir) Patrick Vallance, our chief scientist, and (Professor) Chris Whitty are advising on that and it is their advice that guides us.’
June Raine, chief executive of Britain’s medicines regulator, said earlier this week that it was ‘very likely’ a safety review would be wrapped up by Christmas.
Even if the jab is approved by the MHRA, however, the plans still need to be signed off by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.
The JCVI has so far resisted calls to jab young children because Covid poses such a tiny risk to them.
One of its members, Professor Adam Finn, expressed his unease at the plans today, questioning the ethics of jabbing kids for ‘the indirect protection of adults’.
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘The question really is that should that be our focus right now or should we really be focusing on adults who are the ones that much more commonly get seriously ill.’
The JCVI has been far more cautious than other countries like the US, Israel or EU member states which have been rolling out jabs to young children for months.
Today’s deal comes on the first anniversary of UK regulators becoming the first in the world to approve the Pfizer vaccine — a move which sparked this year’s world-beating jabs rollout. It is the clearest sign yet that ministers are planning to run an annual booster programme against Covid for at least the next two years.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Thanks to the Vaccine Taskforce, we have an excellent track record of securing the vaccines the country needs to keep this virus at bay.
‘These new deals will future-proof the Great British vaccination effort – which has so far delivered more than 115million first, second and booster jabs across the UK – and will ensure we can protect even more people in the years ahead.
‘This is a national mission, and our best weapon to deal with this virus and its variants is to get jabs in arms – so when you are called forward, get the jab and get boosted.’
The Government has now secured access to 453.5million vaccine doses through agreements with six separate developers.
Pfizer has secured agreements to supply 184million jabs to the UK, the most out of any supplier.
Following the emergence of Omicron, Mr Javid asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) for rapid advice on extending the booster programme to all those aged 18 and over.
The advice was accepted this week, with the NHS tasked with offering a booster to all eligible adults in England by the end of January.
Experts say existing vaccines are likely to offer at least some protection against new variants, particularly severe illness and death.
But leading manufacturers are already working to adapt their formulas to make them even more effective against new threats.
In the meantime, Government advisers hope boosting antibody levels with the existing jabs will prevent another wave of infections from Omicron.
To speed up the vaccination programme, around 400 military personnel will be drafted in to support deployment, with 1,500 community pharmacy sites, additional hospital hubs, and pop-up sites opening in convenient locations across the country.
More than 3,000 sites are already open in England – more than double the number in February.
But global health leaders yesterday questioned the UK’s booster campaign. Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s health emergencies programme, said he is not aware of any evidence that would suggest offering booster jabs to the entire population gives any greater protection to healthy people.
Asked about the acceleration of the UK’s booster programme, he told a press briefing: ‘It’s tough for some countries who have huge amounts of excess vaccine to decide who to give it to, but that’s not the problem being faced by a lot of countries around the world who can’t get even primary vaccination to their most vulnerable…
‘There are others here who can better answer than me… but right now there is no evidence that I’m aware of that would suggest that boosting the entire population is going to necessarily provide any greater protection for otherwise healthy individuals against hospitalisation or death.’