A new variant of COVID has caused a surge of concern among virus experts in a very short amount of time. Omicron has found its way to more than 40 countries in less than two weeks, after it was first reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Nov. 24. But even as reports of its transmissibility indicate a high level of infectious that could exceed that of the Delta variant, new data suggests that the new variant may be producing milder disease than the dominant one. Experts still need more time to confirm the severity and transmissibility of Omicron, but the head of Pfizer is expressing concern about what he’s seen so far.
During a Dec. 7 interview with The Wall Street Journal at the news outlet’s CEO Council Summit, Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla reiterated that it appears as if this new version of COVID is milder than previous strains. But according to the vaccine maker, the increased transmissibility being seen with the variant is worrisome.
“I don’t think it’s good news to have something that spreads fast,” Bourla told the news outlet. “Spreads fast means it will be in billions of people and another mutation may come. You don’t want that.”
Other virus experts have been warning that same thing, especially if people remain unvaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only around 60 percent of those eligible for vaccination in the U.S. have been fully vaccinated.
“If the virus has nowhere to spread, it has no opportunity to mutate and cause new variants to emerge,” David Souleles, MPH, director of the COVID-19 Response Team at the University of California, Irvine, explained to USA Today.
Bourla said he expects the number of confirmed Omicron cases to surge from dozens to millions over the next few weeks. The new variant has been found in 19 states so far, according to CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD.
But in many ways, Pfizer’s CEO remains optimistic, despite the possibility that new mutations could emerge from the Omicron variant. Bourla told The Wall Street Journal that he expects more normality in 2022, “absent a variant that changes everything.”
This will require more people getting vaccinated and more powerful treatments, like Pfizer’s antiviral pill, being added to the market, according to Bourla. As long as that occurs, “I think we were in a good path mid of next year to be having things under control,” he concluded.