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Pfizer chief warns of Covid-19 complacency as cases surge

The head of Pfizer Healthcare Ireland has urged the need for continued public vigilance against Covid-19 as viral fatigue sets in.

aul Reid said those eligible should proceed with the second booster vaccine to ensure they are protected against the coronavirus and future variants.

“Knowing the data behind the vaccines, we need to encourage people to continue to follow vaccination guidelines,” said the pharmaceutical company’s country manager.

Pfizer and German company BioNTech were the first to launch a Covid-19 vaccine with their Comirnaty shot.

Mr Reid said research shows the booster dose returns Covid-19 immunity to even higher levels than the original vaccine, but they don’t yet know how long that booster immunity will last.

“It’s really hard to know. I think our request right now is that governments continue to push for the eligible population refresher program,” he said.

Pfizer is currently researching the vaccine’s efficacy against variants of Covid-19, including improved efficacy against the Omicron variant, he added. The company is also evaluating whether the MRNA technology used to develop the Covid-19 vaccine could be applied to other areas of medicine, such as oncology, he said.

Mr Reid’s comments come as the World Health Organization has warned that cases of Covid-19 are rising in most parts of the world as two new and highly transmissible strains of the Omicron variant have been discovered.

Mr Reid said that while Ireland “definitely has a sense of Covid-19 fatigue” it was “in a very good situation” in terms of its high vaccine uptake.

“I think people shouldn’t get too complacent just because we have it relatively under control now than this time last year. It just takes one more variant or outbreak and suddenly we’re back to square one, looking at how to get everyone vaccinated with the required number of doses. You’re better off following the instructions as they come.”

On Pfizer’s “game changer” antiviral pill, Paxlovid, Mr. Reid said it was up to the Health Service Executive to recommend who should benefit from the treatment. Last week it emerged that 65 doses of Paxlovid had been administered in Ireland since the drug became available here last month.

The state bought 5,000 doses of the pill, which were used to treat elderly, unvaccinated, high-risk and immunocompromised patients. “We signed a bilateral agreement with the state, that’s great. That means we’ve been able to make this treatment available to patients who could benefit from it,” he said. “We have the licence, but it is up to the HSE and the Therapeutic Advisory Group to recommend who should benefit from the treatment.”

Vaccine manufacturers are under pressure to share vaccine technology to enable the production of generic vaccines that could potentially be manufactured and manufactured in developing countries. However, Mr Reid said supply is not the issue as Pfizer is “making the vaccine available around the world in a fair and affordable way”.

Vaccine donations to developing countries are also hampered by infrastructural challenges. “A lot depends on their infrastructure to accommodate a vaccine. As you know, at very low temperatures it is refrigerated. So do they have the infrastructure to record it? Do they have the trained resources to administer the vaccine? And then there is the culture in some countries where the uptake of vaccines has never been so high and so it will be a challenge.”

Ireland has pledged five million doses, largely through the WHO-backed Covax initiative, which coordinates vaccine supplies to less developed countries. But only 1.8 million were shipped.

The Department of Health said vaccine donation activity had fallen significantly this year and although Ireland had proposed millions of doses for donation, there was “a significant imbalance between supply and demand”.

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