Pfizer CEO vows to speed up vaccine development to under 100 days to combat the 'high likelihood' that current COVID-19 shots will become ineffective

Pfizer CEO vows to speed up vaccine development to under 100 days to combat the 'high likelihood' that current COVID-19 shots will become ineffective
Pfizer CEO Albert BourlaAP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
  • Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said there was a "high likelihood" COVID-19 vaccines would become ineffective.
  • Bourla said the company was working to ensure it could produce a high-efficacy vaccine in 100 days or fewer.
  • Ex-BARDA Director Richard Hatchett stressed governments needed to see infectious diseases as an "existential threat to our society."

Speaking at the virtual 2021 Davos World Economic Forum, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he believed there was a "high possibility" that vaccines would not be effective in the future, though that hasn't happened yet.

"It's a very high likelihood that one day that will happen," Bourla said.

Bourla said Pfizer was working toward speeding up vaccine research and development in the event that happened. He wants to cut the time from recognizing a pandemic-scale infectious-disease threat to getting a vaccine authorized to 100 days or fewer - a timeline even shorter than the 300-day goal put forth last year by the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed. The company intends to maintain its vaccine candidate's 95% efficacy, he said, in the face of evolving variants.

We're starting to understand how variants could affect vaccines

In the past 24 hours, Johnson & Johnson and Novavax both released the efficacy results of their COVID-19 vaccine candidates.

Though the initial outlook for Johnson & Johnson's single-dose shot seemed promising, its overall efficacy hovers at just 66%, with even less efficacy against the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa. US-based Novavax's vaccine showed 89% efficacy in trials in the United Kingdom, where another more-contagious variant has been identified, but dropped to under 50% in its small South Africa trial.


Comparatively, Pfizer's vaccine, made jointly with BioNTech, has not been tested against either real-life COVID-19 variant. But the company released results Wednesday showing the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine worked against lab-made "pseudoviruses" engineered to have the same mutations as the variants first found in the UK and South Africa.

Read more: Pfizer says its vaccine works against key coronavirus mutations found on the South Africa and UK variants

Bourla was one of four speakers at a panel discussing the need for collaboration between businesses and governments to combat future threats to human health.

Richard Hatchett, the CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness and Innovation, who also spoke on the panel, stressed the need to be prepared for recurrences.

Hatchett, referencing the less than 60% efficacy of both the Johnson & Johnson and Novavax against the new coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa, said the world's only hope of getting ahead of the virus was to control its global circulation.


"Governments must recognize emerging infectious diseases and pandemic threads are an existential threat to our society," Hatchett, a former Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority director, said. "They are an emergent property of the way we live."

If we want society at large to continue as it did before COVID-19, governments must make sustained investments in preparing for future pandemics, Hatchett said.

In closing remarks, he said the world should turn its sights on other coronaviruses and other viral families that may evolve to have higher death rates than SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.