Top Pfizer, Moderna execs at odds on need for 4th COVID-19 vaccine dose

Top executives at pandemic juggernauts Pfizer and Moderna are at odds on the need for a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose. One says a second booster is needed “right now,” while the other thinks a fourth mRNA shot may only be essential for older adults and the immunocompromised. 

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, Ph.D., for his part, thinks another booster is needed as soon as possible. While a third dose of the company’s mRNA-based shot Comirnaty offers protection against severe disease, it may not be enough to stave off infection, CEO Albert Bourla told CBS News’ "Face the Nation."

Based on what Pfizer has seen, it's "necessary" for a "a fourth booster right now,” Bourla said over the weekend.

“The protection that you are getting from the third, it is good enough, actually quite good for hospitalizations and deaths," he told "Face the Nation." "It’s not that good against infections.” 

The CEO’s comments referred to “early and preliminary” data from a study Pfizer unveiled in January, which is assessing a fourth dose of the company’s authorized vaccine plus an omicron-targeted shot, a company spokesperson told CBS. 

Bourla noted that Pfizer is sending the FDA data on the need for a fourth dose. The company’s new vaccine formulation, meanwhile, should be able to “protect against all variants, including omicron,” with protection pegged to last for a year, Bourla said on the program. 

Moderna President Stephen Hoge sees things differently. Speaking with Business Insider, the executive said that “[f]or those who are immune-compromised, those who are older adults, over the age of 50 or at least 65, we want to strongly recommend and encourage [a fourth shot], the same way we do with flu vaccines."

For everyone else, a fourth dose should be left as a matter of choice, Hoge said. 

“Is it necessary? I think that’s a strong word. I think it will provide a benefit to anyone who gets it,” he said. 

Hoge’s comments echo those made by Anthony Fauci, M.D., at a White House press briefing last month. At that time, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director suggested underlying health conditions may be the determining factor in whether a person needs a fourth COVID shot. 

“I don’t think you’re going to be hearing, if you do, any kind of recommendations that would be across the board for everyone,” Fauci said. “It very likely will take into account what subset of people have a diminished, or not, protection against the important parameters such as hospitalization.”

Meanwhile, COVID is likely here to stay, becoming both endemic and seasonal, Moderna’s Hoge said. 

“In December, it’ll look a little bit gnarly, like the flu, and then it will go back down,” the exec told Business Insider. “That is the seasonal picture for all the endemic [human] coronaviruses,” he added. 

Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine generated nearly $37 billion in 2021 sales, contributing to full-year revenues of $81.3 billion. This year, the company expects to make a combined $54 billion from sales of Comirnaty and its antiviral pill Paxlovid. Of that total, Pfizer expects its vaccine to account for $32 billion in 2022 sales.

Moderna, for its part, made about $18 billion on its mRNA vaccine in 2021. This year, the company expects COVID shot sales to clock in at about $22 billion. The company has already secured advanced purchase agreements worth $19 billion, and its signed options are valued at about $3 billion, Moderna said last month.