There has been no shortage of curveballs that the pandemic has thrown at health experts and public officials over the last year and a half. Unfortunately, even as the scientific community continues to better understand COVID-19 and how to stop its spread with safety measures and effective vaccines, the virus itself can change with subtle mutations that can make our current protective measures instantly outdated. Now, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla has offered a prediction that a COVID variant that’s completely vaccine-resistant will “likely” emerge at some point in the future.
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During an appearance on Fox News on Aug. 24, the pharmaceutical executive and vaccine expert said he believed it was only a matter of time before a new version of the virus would be discovered that could elude current vaccines’ defenses. “Every time that [a] variant appears in the world, our scientists are getting their hands around it,” Bourla said. “They are researching to see if this variant can escape the protection of our vaccine. We haven’t identified any yet, but we believe that it is likely that one day, one of them will emerge.”
The CEO went on to explain that he wasn’t taking his prediction lightly, saying that Pfizer works on an expedited timeline that allows it to quickly tackle any new variants as they appear. “We have built a process that within 95 days from the day that we identify a variant as a variant of concern, we will be able to have a vaccine tailor-made against this variant,” Bourla said, adding that the virus is more likely to mutate the more it can spread among the population.
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The prediction came just one day after the U.S. Food & Drug Administration granted full approval of the Pfizer COVID vaccine, which many experts expected would help convince more people to get the doses. During an appearance on NBC’s the Today Show on Aug. 24, Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House COVID adviser, cited a survey that said 30 percent of those reluctant to receive the vaccine would be more willing to do so now.
Fauci added that the approval would also make it easier to make the shots mandatory for some. “The second element is … that there will now be much more enthusiasm in mandating vaccines, be they in corporations and places of employment, universities, colleges, the military—all of that I believe will contribute greatly to the number of people vaccinated,” he said.
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Bourla is far from the first expert to predict that a variant resistant to the vaccine could create a problem in the future. During a press conference on July 27, Rochelle Walensky, MD, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), expressed concern that one could soon develop. “These vaccines operate really well in protecting us from severe disease and death, but the big concern is that the next variant that might emerge—just a few mutations, potentially, away—could potentially evade our vaccines,” she said.
But while the currently spreading Delta variant has caused some health officials to become concerned over vaccine efficacy, Bourla pushed back against the idea that it would need to modify its existing vaccine to tackle it. “We are making, right now, a specialized vaccine for Delta,” he said during an interview with NBC News on Aug. 23. But, he added, the Delta variant-tailored vaccine likely wouldn’t be needed because “the booster shot of the current vaccine is very, very, very effective.”
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