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Claim about Pfizer CEO’s description of vaccine leaves out important context

PolitiFact | Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was speaking specifically about the omicron variant of COVID-19.
A dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's hospital Nov. 5, 2021, in Chicago.
A dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's hospital Nov. 5, 2021, in Chicago. [ NAM Y. HUH | AP ]
Published Jan. 18

An Instagram post takes remarks by Pfizer’s CEO out of context to suggest that he described his company’s COVID-19 vaccine as largely ineffective.

“Two doses of the vaccine offers very limited protection, if any,” the Jan. 13 post says, attributing the quote to “Pfizer CEO, Albert Bourla, Jan. 10, 2022.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The remarks were taken from an interview Bourla gave to Yahoo Finance on Jan. 10. He was asked about the wave of COVID-19 cases caused by the omicron variant of the virus.

Bourla talked about how omicron is more mild, but very infectious, posing a challenge for the vaccine. But the quote in the post leaves out important context about what he was discussing. He was referring to how well two doses of the vaccine protected specifically against infection by the omicron variant.

“We know that the two doses of the vaccine offer very limited protection, if any,” he said. “The three doses, with the booster, they offer reasonable protection against hospitalization and deaths. Against deaths, I think very good, and less protection against infection.”

In another interview the same day on CNBC, Bourla talked about the omicron wave and the need for better vaccine protection. He said Pfizer was working on a version of the vaccine that would offer “way, way better” protection against omicron, particularly against infections. He said the new vaccine would be available in March.

“The protection against the hospitalizations and the severe diseases, it is reasonable right now, with the current vaccines, as long as you are having, let’s say, the third dose,” he said.

We reached out to Pfizer but did not hear back immediately.

PolitiFact has reported on how omicron spreads quickly and is more resistant to vaccine protection, though the vaccines do protect against serious illness from the virus.

Fact-checkers at Reuters found that this claim was missing context, and Snopes said it was Mostly False.

Our ruling

An Instagram post claims that Pfizer’s CEO said two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine offer “very little protection, if any.”

The quote in the post was part of remarks Bourla made in an interview. But he was referring specifically to the vaccine’s protection against infection by the omicron variant, not about their effectiveness against COVID-19 in general. He also said that three doses protect against severe disease.

This claim contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.

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Tampa Bay: The Times can help you find the free, public COVID-19 testing sites in Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk and Sarasota counties.

Florida: The Department of Health has a website that lists testing sites in the state. Some information may be out of date.

The U.S.: The Department of Health and Human Services has a website that can help you find a testing site.

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How to get vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine for ages 5 and up and booster shots for eligible recipients are being administered at doctors’ offices, clinics, pharmacies, grocery stores and public vaccination sites. Many allow appointments to be booked online. Here’s how to find a site near you:

Find a site: Visit vaccines.gov to find vaccination sites in your ZIP code.

More help: Call the National COVID-19 Vaccination Assistance Hotline.

Phone: 800-232-0233. Help is available in English, Spanish and other languages.

TTY: 888-720-7489

Disability Information and Access Line: Call 888-677-1199 or email DIAL@n4a.org.

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More coronavirus coverage

OMICRON VARIANT: Omicron changed what we know about COVID. Here’s the latest on how the infectious COVID-19 variant affects masks, vaccines, boosters and quarantining.

KIDS AND VACCINES: Got questions about vaccinating your kid? Here are some answers.

BOOSTER SHOTS: Confused about which COVID booster to get? This guide will help.

BOOSTER QUESTIONS: Are there side effects? Why do I need it? Here’s the answers to your questions.

PROTECTING SENIORS: Here’s how seniors can stay safe from the virus.

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