As the summer vacation season draws to a close and people return to their everyday routines, a concerning development has emerged in the fight against Covid-19. A new strain, known as Eris, has gained significant attention, being classified as a "variant of interest" by the World Health Organization (WHO). Since early August, Eris has been identified in at least 51 countries worldwide, including China, the U.S., Korea, Japan, and Canada.
Fortunately, the WHO has assessed the global public health risk posed by this new variant as low. However, in the U.S., Eris already accounts for approximately 17% of reported Covid-19 cases, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While Covid-19 hospitalizations have increased from their previous low levels, it is important to note that the federal public health emergency status for Covid-19 was lifted in May.
In response to the emergence of Eris and other recent strains, leading pharmaceutical companies such as Pfizer (ticker: PFE), Moderna (MRNA), and Novavax (NVAX) are preparing to introduce updated Covid-19 vaccines this fall. Although these vaccines will not specifically target the Eris variant, they are all derived from the same strain lineage.
This year's vaccine campaign brings about notable changes. Instead of the government procuring and distributing doses as before, pharmaceutical manufacturers are making them available through commercial channels such as pharmacies and medical offices.
With the anticipation of the upcoming winter flu season, vaccine manufacturers are gearing up to meet the expected rise in demand. Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla shared with investors in August that their updated Covid vaccine is expected to be commercially available in September, pending regulatory approvals.
It remains uncertain how much demand there will be for these updated vaccines. Bourla acknowledged that factors such as the severity of the disease and people's willingness to seek treatment will play a role in shaping vaccine uptake.