Do we really need an omicron-specific vaccine?

Pfizer’s CEO says it’ll be ready in March, but Dr. Fauci thinks the vaccines we've got now are just fine.

US President Joe Biden listens to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speak at the Pfizer Kalamazoo Manufacturi...
The Pandemic
Originally Published: 

Omicron is really making the rounds right now. Sure, this variant seems milder, but none of us want to spend our precious time and energy fighting it off. Some of the people getting sick from COVID recently have been vaxxed and boosted, which has made some of us a little nervous about how effective the vaccines are. Don’t worry though, because the CEO of Pfizer says that an omicron-specific vaccine will be ready by March. Cool, but do we really need it if the current boosters are supposed to protect us from variants?

On Monday, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla told CNBC that the company is trying to get an omicron-specific vaccine out ASAP. Apparently, these vaccines are already being manufactured for at-risk populations. Bourla told CNBC that the vaccines would be ready by March. This variant specific booster is necessary, Bourla claims, because we aren’t sure how long the OG Pfizer booster will fight omicron. “The question …is how long that protection lasts with the third dose,” Bourla said.

Obviously, we can’t know how long the boosters will protect us, but Bourla himself has been telling us for months that the boosters will keep us safe. “Ensuring as many people as possible are fully vaccinated with the first two dose series and a booster remains the best course of action to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Bourla told CNBC in December. To be fair, he did say then that he thought we eventually might need a fourth dose, but he seemed adamant that three shots was enough for now, and that was only a month ago.

While it is true that science changes fast, a lot of experts don’t think we actually need a variant-specific vaccine. Last month, Anthony Fauci said that he didn’t think more targeted vaccines were necessary. "Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron. At this point there is no need for a variant-specific booster,” Fauci said at a press briefing on December 15th.

The unprecedented surges in infection rates lately may have some clamoring for new kinds of vaccine protection, but the reality is that it may be too late to curb the spread of omicron. If many experts are correct, omicron is peaking right about now and could be abating by March, which begs the question of why Pfizer is suddenly pushing this fourth jab so hard.

Human rights organizations have long criticized Pfizer’s blatantly profit-driven agenda because they have really been cashing in on this pandemic. For its part, Pfizer says that it could have 50-100 million doses of the omicron vaccine ready by spring. In the past, the U.S. government has paid upwards of $3 billion for 100 million doses. All told, the COVID-19 vaccines are set to become one of the most lucrative pharmaceutical products in history. Pfizer alone has reaped millions from vaccines. In the first quarter of 2021, Pfizer made over $3.5 billion — with a B — in revenue, and all these new shots could be another major boost for the company.