Pfizer: 4th COVID-19 vaccine dose will be needed

It seems Americans will need a fourth dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla.

Bourla spoke about the matter on CBS’ "Face the Nation" on Sunday. 

"Right now, the way that we have seen, it is necessary, a fourth booster right now," he said. "The protection that you are getting from the third, it is good enough, actually quite good for hospitalizations and deaths."

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"It's not that good against infections, but doesn't last very long," he continued. 

Bourla said he has submitted data on a fourth dose to the Federal and Drug Administration.

"Many variants are coming and omicron was the first one that was able to evade in a skillful way, the immune protection that we're giving," he added.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone 12 years or older, who received the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, should get a third, booster shot at least five months after the second shot. 

Vaccines still offer strong protection against serious illness from any type of COVID-19. But health authorities are urging everyone who’s eligible to get a booster dose for their best chance at avoiding milder breakthrough infections from the highly contagious omicron mutant.

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Children tend to suffer less serious illness from COVID-19 than adults. But child hospitalizations are rising during the omicron wave — most of them unvaccinated.

Talks of a fourth COVID-19 dose have been part of the larger health discussion in recent months. 

In December, the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said it was too early to determine if or when Americans would need yet another dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

"I think it's too premature to be talking about a fourth dose," Fauci told Michael Wallace and Steve Scott of WCBS Newsradio 880.

"One of the things that we're going to be following very carefully is what the durability of the protection is following the third dose of an mRNA vaccine," he continued. "If the protection is much more durable than the two-dose, non-boosted group, then we may go a significant period of time without requiring a fourth dose."

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Health experts expect protection from the vaccines to wane. The U.S. booster campaign was based on evidence that emerged last year that vaccine protection was fading six months after people got their initial vaccinations.

An early look at the performance of COVID-19 booster shots during the recent omicron wave in the U.S. hinted at a decline in effectiveness, though the shots still offered strong protection against severe illness.

The report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last month, is considered an early and limited look at the durability of booster protection during the omicron surge that exploded in December and January but has been fading in recent weeks.

The researchers looked at patient visits to hospitals and urgent care centers in 10 states. They estimated how well Pfizer or Moderna booster shots prevented COVID-related visits to emergency departments and urgent care centers, and how well the vaccines prevented hospitalizations.

About 10% of people in the study were boosted. Vaccine effectiveness was higher in people who had received boosters than in people who had received only the original series of shots.

But researchers also found that during the time that the omicron variant has been predominant, vaccine effectiveness against outpatient visits was 87% in people who had gotten a booster two months earlier, but to 66% at four months after. Vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization fell from 91% at two months to 78% by the fourth month.

Those results, however, were based on only a small number of patients — fewer than 200 — who had been boosted four months earlier at the time of the omicron wave. And it’s unclear if those people had gotten boosters early for medical reasons that may have made them more vulnerable to severe illness.

Two years into the pandemic, COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths have dramatically dropped over the past several weeks.

About 65% of Americans are fully vaccinated, and about 29% are both vaccinated and boosted. Cases have been falling for nearly two months, with the U.S. daily average dropping about 40% in the last week alone. Hospitalizations also have plummeted, down nearly 30%. Mask mandates are vanishing — even federal health officials have stopped wearing them — and President Joe Biden has said it’s time for people to return to offices and many aspects of pre-pandemic life.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.