Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks at a press conference after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the plant of US pharmaceutical company Pfizer in Puurs, Belgium, on April 23, 2021.
Jean Thys | Swimming pool | Reuters
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on Tuesday that the omicron variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 appears to be milder than previous strains, but also appears to spread faster and could lead to more mutations in the future.
“I don’t think it’s good news to have something that spreads quickly,” Bourla told The Wall Street Journal in an interview at the top of the newspaper’s CEO Council. “The rapid spread means it will be in billions of people and another mutation could occur. You don’t want that.”
White House chief medical adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said weekend reports from South Africa suggest omicron is not as serious as initially feared, while noting that more data is needed to fully assess the risk posed by the variant.
The South African Medical Research Council, in a report released on Saturday, said most of the patients hospitalized with Covid in the past two weeks at the Steve Biko / Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Gauteng Province, the epicenter of the the country’s omicron outbreak, did not need additional oxygen. The report also noted that many patients were admitted for other medical reasons and were later found to have Covid.
Bourla warned that it is difficult to draw conclusions from the wave of infection in South Africa at this time. Only 5% of South Africans are over 60 and younger people normally have milder cases of Covid. However, many people in South Africa are also HIV positive, which would likely lead to more serious illness from Covid, he said.
The CEO of Pfizer said he expects the number of confirmed cases of omicron to rise from tens to millions in the coming weeks.
“We will have a good understanding, say before the end of the year, of what exactly this means for the clinical manifestation,” said Bourla.
This is a developing story. Please check for updates.