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Pfizer CEO says omicron appears milder but spreads faster and could lead to more Covid mutations

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla addresses a press conference after a visit to oversee the production of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine at the factory of U.S. pharmaceutical company Pfizer in Puurs, Belgium April 23, 2021.
John Thys | Pool | Reuters

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla on Tuesday said the omicron variant of the virus that causes Covid-19 appears to be milder than previous strains, but also seems 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 fast,” Bourla told The Wall Street Journal during an interview at the paper’s CEO Council Summit. “Spreads fast means it will be in billions of people and another mutation may come. You don’t want that.”

White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said reports over the weekend from South Africa suggest omicron is not as severe 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 patients hospitalized with Covid over the past two weeks at the Steve Biko/Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Gauteng Province, the epicenter of the country’s omicron outbreak, didn’t need supplemental oxygen. The report also noted that many patients were admitted for other medical reasons and were then found to have Covid.

Bourla cautioned that it is difficult to draw conclusions from the wave of infection in South Africa right now. Just 5% of South Africans are over the age of 60, and younger people normally have milder cases of Covid. However, many people in South Africa are also HIV positive, which would presumably lead to more severe disease from Covid, he said.

The Pfizer CEO said he expects the number of confirmed omicron cases to surge from dozens to millions over the next few weeks.

“We will have a good understanding let’s say before the year end as to what exactly it means for clinical manifestation,” Bourla said.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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