Annual vaccines to tackle Covid-19 are likely to be needed, the boss of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has said.

Dr Albert Bourla said yearly vaccinations could boost population immunity, adding that the company is already working on a new jab for the Omicron variant.

He told the BBC: “Based on everything I have seen so far, I would say that annual vaccinations . . . are likely to be needed to maintain a very robust and very high level of protection.”

It is not yet clear whether the vaccines will need to be tweaked every year for new variants, as happens with the annual flu jab.

In October, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer jab for five to 11 year olds.

Dr Bourla said immunising that age group in the UK and Europe would be a very good idea. “Covid in schools is thriving,” he said. “This is disturbing, significantly, the educational system, and there are kids that will have severe symptoms.

“So there is no doubt in my mind that the benefits, completely, are in favour of doing it.”

Ireland’s National Immunisation Advisory Committee has recommended that anyone aged over 50 and people with underlying health conditions over the age of 16 should avail of a booster vaccine.

Future-proofing vaccine programme

Ministers in the UK have announced they have secured Covid-19 vaccines for potential booster campaigns in the next two years.

The British government said it signed deals for 114 million Moderna and Pfizer jabs, which will be delivered in 2022 and 2023. Health secretary Sajid Javid said the deals “future-proof” the country’s vaccination programme.

The UK department of health and social care said the deals include access to modified vaccines if they are needed to combat Omicron and future variants of concern.

Trial data suggests booster doses of the coronavirus vaccine are generally well tolerated and provide a substantial increase in vaccine-induced immune responses, in particular, and that mRNA vaccines provide a strong booster effect.

The UK has also announced that all adults will be offered a booster shot before the end of January amid growing concerns about the Omicron variant.

However, global health leaders have questioned the campaign, with Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organisation’s health emergencies programme, saying he is not aware of any evidence that would suggest offering booster jabs to the entire population gives any greater protection to healthy people.

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