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Coronavirus

Booster jabs in GCC remain ‘critical’ to beat ‘unpredictable’ COVID-19: Pfizer chief

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Residents in the GCC must continue to have regular booster jabs to combat the spread of the “highly unpredictable” and evolving COVID-19 virus, Pfizer’s Middle East chief has told Al Arabiya English.

Patrick van der Loo, Pfizer’s regional president for Africa and the Middle East (AfME) region, said while there “is a strong, global desire to move beyond the pandemic, loosen restrictions, and return to a sense of normalcy”, COVID-19 remains a clear and present threat to worldwide nations.

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As people spend more time indoors as the weather grows colder and as schools reconvene, a potential surge in new infections is a real threat, he said in an interview on Tuesday.

“The reality is that the virus continues to evolve and remains highly unpredictable,” he said. “Many countries around the world have experienced a rise in case rates, showing that governments must remain vigilant and be prepared to address the potential risks.”

“As the fall/winter season approaches we encourage people to protect themselves and stay healthy. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we set out to develop a vaccine to help protect our communities from serious illness, and vaccination remains the first line of defense and one of the best tools we have to help prevent COVID-19.”

Despite the rollout of effective COVID-19 vaccines to help prevent infection, severe disease, and hospitalization, large portions of the global population remain unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated, said van der Loo.

“Even among those who are fully vaccinated and boosted, infections from COVID-19 can still occur,” he told Al Arabiya English. “For patients with one or more risk factors for progressing to severe disease, it’s critical to have treatments available to prevent hospitalization and serious illness.

As health systems worldwide continue to experience the impact of COVID-19 – from workforce shortages to the immense toll on the mental welfare of healthcare workers – the pandemic continues to create and exacerbate challenges, said van der Loo.

“From where we stand, we still need collective responsibility, and a highly coordinated and collaborative action by public and private stakeholders to pull through vaccination and make treatments available to those that need them.”

As many governments develop ‘living with COVID-19’ strategies, efforts to reduce the ongoing impact of the pandemic will be crucial to successfully manage the pandemic long-term, transforming it into a manageable endemic disease, said van der Loo.

“We believe that the best hedge against the spread of the omicron variant or any new variant that emerges from the continued spread is getting all eligible people fully vaccinated with the first one or two-dose series and one or more booster doses as recommended.”

“Even countries with high vaccination rates and relatively stable infection rates may experience significant surges in COVID-19 cases, morbidity, and mortality. Therefore, leveraging an oral treatment as a complementary tool to vaccination is important.”

In August the US Food and Drug Administration authorized the retooled COVID-19 booster shots of Pfizer/BioNTech that target the currently dominant BA.4/BA.5 omicron subvariants of the coronavirus, with van der Loo saying, from the onset of the pandemic, Pfizer recognized that “a dual approach of prevention and treatment was critical to control COVID-19.”

COVID-19 jabs are ‘first line of defense’

“Vaccination is the first line of defense to prevent hospitalization and death. Treatments complement vaccination efforts and, by helping to protect against severe illness caused by breakthrough infections, help address gaps in vaccine uptake and the emergence of new variants.”

“As the COVID-19 landscape continues to evolve, our strategy remains focused on the dual pillars of prevention and treatment. We remain committed to following the science as we explore new vaccine candidates designed to broadly protect against current, emerging, and future SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, as well as advancing studies exploring the use of our oral treatment in additional populations with high unmet need and continuing work on next-generation treatments for people of all ages.”

A nurse prepares a shot of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the vaccination center in the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, Germany January 19, 2022. (File photo: Reuters)
A nurse prepares a shot of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine at the vaccination center in the Humboldt Forum in Berlin, Germany January 19, 2022. (File photo: Reuters)

He added: “Pfizer is firmly committed to working toward equitable and affordable access to COVID-19 vaccines and treatment for people around the world. We believe that this is a collective responsibility that calls for highly coordinated and collaborative action by public and private stakeholders alike, with multiple solutions needed from multiple partners.”

“Early in the development programs for both COVID-19 vaccine and treatment, we reached out to governments in all parts of the world at all income levels as well as international global health organizations to determine how to best enable access for all people, everywhere.”

“Working closely with local, regional, national and international partners to combat this evolving crisis, we have established a comprehensive strategy to optimize overall supply and access of COVID-19 vaccines and oral treatments that includes multilateral supply agreements, humanitarian donations and voluntary licensing agreements, among others, as well as providing our expertise and resources for novel approaches that can help to strengthen healthcare systems and address barriers to access where greater support is needed.”

Its purchase agreement with COVAX to date has seen Pfizer and BioNTech provide more than 35 million doses to 58 countries in every region of the world, he said.

“To add, as of June 2022, we have delivered more than 1.4 billion doses to 111 low and middle-income countries as part of our pledge to supply at least one billion doses to these low and middle-income economies each year.”

“Ending the pandemic and vaccinating the world is a massive, but achievable undertaking, and I want to acknowledge all the countries for the education campaigns they have funded to address vaccine hesitancy and for rolling out effective COVID-19 vaccines to help prevent infection, severe disease, and hospitalization.

“However, large portions of the global population remain unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. Alongside global inequity, the distribution efforts have been affected by slow uptake and hesitancy to take the vaccine despite ample production and availability of doses.”

COVID-19 cases in the UAE

Doctors in the UAE have previously urged residents to get their COVID-19 booster jab amid variants of the virus.

Speaking to Al Arabiya English, Dr Azeem Abdul Salam Mohamad, a specialist in Internal Medicine at Bareen International Hospital at MBZ City, said: “COVID-19 booster shots raise the antibody levels and offer both longer term protection and stronger immune response against COVID-19 variants.”

It is recommended that all individuals above the age of 18 years should take booster shot after 6 months of second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, the doctor said.

The UAE has been recording a weeks-long pattern of mostly declining daily infections.

The Gulf country crossed its one million COVID-19 cases mark on August 9.

UAE health authorities took firm measures to combat the initial outbreak and a wave of omicron variant cases that pushed daily COVID-19 numbers up in recent months.

Read more:

EU officials recommend boosting high-risk people with omicron-tailored shots first

US authorizes Moderna, Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine targeting omicron

When should you take COVID-19 vaccine, boosters, flu shots? UAE experts weigh in

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