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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, said Pfizer’s Middle East chief.

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.

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.

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. 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.”

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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.

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“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.”

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COVID-19 jabs are ‘first line of defence’

“Vaccination is the first line of defence 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.”

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.”

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“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.”

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AlArabiya

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