Third dose a sticky sell for Pfizer

Editorial | Mary Ma 15 Jul 2021

Pfizer's aggressive push for a third dose of its Covid vaccine, jointly developed with German laboratory BioNTech, must raise plenty of eyebrows given that so many people in the world have not had a chance to get even the first dose.

Recent modest spikes in infections in Israel seem to justify Pfizer's claim - but this may not be the case.

Many types of vaccine are in circulation. After Pfizer, the most talked-about jabs include Moderna, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik V, Sinopharm and Sinovac.

Various regulatory authorities have their own approval lists.

It has always been understood that the vaccines cannot prevent infection entirely but that they greatly reduce the risk of developing serious disease and, therefore, preempt the need for hospitalization. Mild symptoms are anticipated.

This is why it is crucial for as many people as possible to get vaccinated. The vaccines have achieved this aim to varied degrees.

Undoubtedly, two doses of the Pfizer vaccine have produced the best results so far although AstraZeneca, for example, has also provided significant protection against hospitalization and serious illness.

In the UK, where the Delta variant is prevalent, infection upticks among single- and double-dose people have been restrained compared to the exponential hike among the unvaccinated.

More importantly, hospitalization and death figures have remained low, contrary to the horrific situation in previous outbreaks.

It is far too soon to say whether a third-dose booster for people already inoculated with two Pfizer jabs is needed.

The British government has been conservative on this, studying only whether people fully vaccinated with AstraZeneca would need a Pfizer booster or not.

It has not yet reached a conclusion.

Oxford University professor Andrew Pollard was absolutely right when he pointed out: "It's difficult to justify getting a third dose to ourselves, especially if not clearly needed, ahead of zero-dose people whose lives remain at risk."

The best for the time being is to let the debate carry on to shed further light on the matter in order to better understand it.

As Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla insisted it is his belief that people will need a third dose and this could be annual, he should forgive skeptics for questioning whether the company's relentless promotion for a third dose is motivated by business considerations.

If public figures are true, Pfizer could have made a lot more from the current phase of the pandemic if it had not offered the BioNTech vaccine at a big discount.

The Sun newspaper in the UK quoted Pfizer chief financial officer Frank D'Amelio as saying in June that the company charged US$19.50 (HK$152) per dose under a pandemic supply deal when the drugmaker could have typically made US$150-US$170 per dose.

According to The Sun, in initial deals with the US government, the Pfizer vaccine costs US$19.50 a dose, compared to US$15 for Moderna, US$16 for Novavax, US$10 for Johnson & Johnson and US$4 for AstraZeneca.

At that time, the company predicted that, moving forward, the Pfizer Covid jab would cost more.

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