Pfizer to offer fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose

This dose intends to target the omicron variant with manufacturing set to finish in March 2022.


Hallie Williams

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, as photographed on Oct. 16, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Hallie Williams)

Sally Johnson, News Copy Editor

On Jan. 10, Pfizer announced that it has begun manufacturing a fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose specifically targeting the omicron variant, as well as the virus’s other variants, such as delta. As of publication, it is unclear whether this omicron-specific dose will be necessary for protection against COVID-19 and whether Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) or the Student Health Center will be offering the dose.

Per Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s CEO, manufacturing for this dose will finish in March 2022. Moderna has also begun clinical trials on an omicron-specific dose.

According to Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine’s (VUSM’s) Division of Infectious Diseases, population immunity is developing as a result of a high number of individuals contracting the omicron variant and individuals receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The combination of natural omicron plus vaccination may even by the end of this month, or perhaps into February sometime, create so much population immunity that, for the first time, this pandemic may actually recede,” Schaffner said. “We would go from pandemic to what we refer to as endemic. The virus has a harder time finding remaining susceptibles to infect.”

As a result of this projected immunity, Schaffner said that a vaccine dose targeting the omicron variant may not be necessary for the general population. However, he stated that it remains difficult to predict whether this immunity will be strong enough by the time that the omicron-specific dose is available in March 2022. 

“We don’t know the answer to that because so much depends upon how solid the immunity is that omicron is providing and how well the immunity from vaccines will persist,” Schaffner said. 

According to Schaffner, vaccine manufacturers are also working towards the creation of a “universal” COVID-19 vaccine that would protect against “past, current and possibly future COVID-19 variants.” He added that a portion of this research is being conducted by Kayvon Modjarrad, director for emerging infectious disease threats at the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research, who attended VUSM to complete his internal medicine residency and clinical infectious diseases fellowship.

For most vaccinated individuals, this dose would be the fourth that they receive in the COVID-19 vaccine series. However, beginning Aug. 13, a number of immunocompromised individuals received a third Pfizer or Moderna vaccine dose as part of their first vaccine series, which typically consists of two doses. These individuals are eligible for their booster shot—their fourth dose of the vaccine—five months after they receive their specially-administered third dose. The omicron-specific dose would be their fifth COVID-19 vaccine.

Students, faculty and staff are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 for the 2021-22 academic year unless they receive a medical or religious exemption. However, a booster shot is not mandated. Dean of Students G.L. Black did not respond to The Hustler’s request for comment regarding whether the omicron-specific dose will be required for community members.