Pfizer boss: Covid vaccines have saved societyon December 2, 2021 at 6:00 am

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In an exclusive interview, Dr Albert Bourla says jabs have saved millions of lives and trillions of dollars.

The head of Pfizer says vaccines have helped to save millions of lives during the pandemic – and the structure of society.

It is a year to the day since the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was approved in the UK, the first country in the world to do so, paving the way for mass immunisation.

And without the vaccines, things would be very different, Pfizer chief executive Dr Albert Bourla said, in an exclusive interview.

“The fundamental structure of our society would be threatened,” he said.

“We would be counting trillions of economic losses… and have seen things that we only see in movies.”

By the end of 2021, Pfizer expects to have supplied three billion doses of its messenger ribonucleic-acid (mRNA) vaccine.

Four billion more are planned for next year.

There had been a global race to protect people protected, Dr Bourla said, but in 2022, countries would have “as many doses as they need”.

He was speaking before the emergence of the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, another reminder Covid is changing and the pandemic far from over.

It is too early to say whether existing vaccines will need tweaking – but Pfizer is already working on an updated jab that could be ready in 100 days.

The UK government has just signed contracts to buy a total of 114 million additional Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna doses, for 2022 and 2023.

And these future supply deals include access to modified vaccines, if they are needed to combat Omicron and future variants of concern, to prepare for all eventualities.

But several global health charities see the money Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna are making out of the pandemic as immoral.

Pfizer will generate at least $35bn of Covid vaccine sales this year and has seen its share price soar.

But while most people in the world have now had at least one Covid jab, in parts of Africa it is less than one person in 20.

Vaccination in Cape Town

Image source, Getty Images

Dr Bourla, though, was unapologetic about making a profit out of the pandemic.

“The bottom line is millions of lives were saved,” he said.

“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.”

He denied profiteering – saying the jab was the “cost of a takeaway meal” for richer countries but sold at no profit to low-income ones – but accepted rich countries such as the UK had placed orders early and availability had initially been limited.

Having to be stored at -70C, the Pfizer vaccine has been tricky to deploy in countries with limited health services.

But within a month or so, Pfizer says it will roll out a new formulation of the vaccine that can be stored for three months in a fridge, which Dr Bourla said, would make a “huge difference” for sub-Saharan African countries.

It has been an extraordinary period for Pfizer.

As well as its vaccine, it has developed an antiviral pill, Paxlovid, which in trials cut hospital admissions and deaths by nearly 90%.

It should be approved in the US shortly.

And the UK government has agreed to buy enough for 250,000 patients.

In October, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer jab for five to 11-year-olds.

Immunising that age group in the UK and Europe would be a very good idea, Dr Bourla said.

“Covid in schools is thriving,” he said.

“This is disturbing, significantly, the educational system, and there are kids that will have severe symptoms.

“So there is no doubt in my mind that the benefits, completely, are in favour of doing it.”

Pfizer is also conducting Covid-vaccine trials in the under-fives – another potential market.

And Dr Bourla said the jabs would be needed for many years to come.

“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,” he said.

Whether those might need to be tweaked each year for new variants is anyone’s guess.

Pfizer had made updated vaccines in response to the Beta, also first identified in South Africa, and Delta, first identified in India, variants, Dr Bourla said, but they had not been needed.

And he had a strong message for those who did not want to have vaccines or were afraid of them

“For those that are just afraid, the only emotion of human beings stronger than fear is love,” Dr Bourla said.

“So I am using always this argument that the decision to get another vaccine is not going to influence only your health, it is going to affect the health of others and particularly the health of the people you love the most, because they are the ones that you will interact with.

“So take the courage to overcome your fears and do the right thing.”

Dr Bourla has recently been the target of some bizarre fake news stories, alleging the US Federal Bureau of Investigation had arrested him for fraud and his wife had died as a result of side-effects from the Pfizer vaccine – both untrue.

“In the first news, that I was arrested by the FBI, of course I laughed,” he said.

“On the second news, that my wife died, with a picture of her, I was really [angry].

“I worried about my kids, so I tried to call them and I could not get my son on the phone.

“What we had to go through, it is nothing compared to the lives that will be lost because of the rubbish that those people published, because people will really think that my wife died because of the vaccine… and she is fine – she is wonderful.”

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