Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla Tuesday called the company’s treatment for COVID-19 a “game-changer” that is effective against the Omicron variant and the pill could be available for distribution in the US as soon as this month once it is authorized by the Food and Drug Administration.
“It’s a game changer,’’ Bourla told CBS Mornings. “This is a treatment, it’s not something that you use for prevention. People are out there getting sick unfortunately, ending up in hospitals and dying. With this pill, we have now proved that instead of 10 of them going to hospital, only one will go, and frankly no one died in this study.”
Bourla was interviewed after his company reported that full results of its 2,250-person study confirmed the pill’s promising early results against the virus. Pfizer tested the antiviral drug against a man-made version of a key protein that Omicron uses to reproduce itself.
The new treatment approach comes as COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalization are surging and the US nears 800,000 pandemic deaths. The latest surge, driven by the Delta variant, is accelerating due to colder weather and more indoor gatherings, even as health officials brace for the impact of the emerging Omicron mutant.
In the interview with CBS Mornings, Bourla said that his company has been in contact with the Biden administration, has already stored a supply of the medication in the US and can start shipping them as soon as this month once the FDA gives its authorization.
“We have already sent products in the United States, so the product is waiting here,” he said. “We have already been in very deep discussions with the American government on how we will start immediate distribution. And I believe everything will go well once it’s approved.”
Bourla was asked how effective the new treatment is against the Omicron variant that has spread across the country and many other countries since being identified by scientists in South Africa.
“We believe very very, very well,’’ since testing in Pfizer labs showed the medication was very effective in combating the Omicron variant. “That doesn’t mean that we have 100 percent proof but we have a strong, strong, strong, strong, strong belief that Omicron will not be effective.”
Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, who appeared on CBS Mornings after Bourla, said the new treatment is another means of fighting COVID - but stressed vaccination and booster shots remain the single best response to the ongoing pandemic.
“First and foremost, we need to get people to prevent disease. That’s really, really important,” said Walensky “Get your vaccine, get your booster, take all those prevention measures. We have about 1,100 deaths every day. Still. We can’t be cavalier about the fact that we’re losing so many lives in this right now.”
Walensky welcomed the new Pfizer treatment, but cautioned that someone who is ill with COVID has to start taking the medication as soon as they are diagnosed for it to be effective.
“The really important thing here is that you have to test quickly because you really need to give it within a pretty narrow window of symptoms... If you start to get those symptoms, then you really need to test quickly and go consult with your physician or provider so that you can get treatment,” said Walensky.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this account.
John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.