Pfizer (NYSE:PFE) and BioNTech (NASDAQ:BNTX) have joined hands with Disney’s (DIS) Marvel Comics to promote COVID-19 vaccinations as the booster rollout targeted at the omicron variant continues to lag the pace seen last year.
“At Pfizer, we encourage people to come together to help protect themselves by staying up to date with COVID-19 vaccinations,” the company said, announcing the creation of a custom-designed comic book titled “Everyday Heroes” on Thursday.
The comic featuring a QR code to obtain more information on COVID-19 vaccines available from Pfizer (PFE) comes with the caption, “A family is on the edge of the latest Ultron attack! Will the Avengers prevail?”.
The corporate-led effort to improve COVID-19 vaccinations comes about a month after the U.S. launched the boosters adjusted for Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 over the recent Labor Day weekend.
During the first five weeks of the rollout, nearly 11.5M people received the updated boosters, including around 3.9M during the final week, data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed Thursday.
That is a vaccine uptake of about 5.3% of the eligible population, a slowdown from last year when about 17M received their additional unadjusted vaccine doses during the first five weeks of the booster rollout for the immunocompromised and elderly in 2021.
However, the Biden administration expects the demand to improve in the weeks ahead, and Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House's COVID response coordinator, has a positive view on the initial uptake. "We think that's a really good start. Also, let me be very clear, we need to continue and up that pace as we get into October," Jha said Friday, outlining the administration's efforts to increase the demand.
According to Jha, the government intends to work with medical societies nationwide and launch a media campaign targeting vaccine holdouts to raise the demand for boosters.
The situation in Europe is no better: Only 1.0M – 1.4M individuals have opted for COVID-19 jabs in September compared to 6M – 10M a week in the prior-year period, according to data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The weak demand for boosters comes ahead of a potential uptick in COVID cases. In Europe, the 14-day case numbers across all age groups have been rising for three consecutive weeks, ECDC data indicate. Despite a 10% decline in death rates, a lagging indicator of the pandemic, the hospitalization rate has risen for the second consecutive week. A rise in EU COVID cases has usually preceded similar spikes in other parts of the world.
Some researchers see early signs of a COVID upsurge in the U.S. The virus levels detected in sewage water samples are up in some parts of the country, such as Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, and other parts of the Northeast.
The infections and hospital admissions have started to spike in some of the same areas of New England and some other northern regions, Dr. David Rubin, the director of the PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, noted.
"We're seeing the northern rim of the country beginning to show some evidence of increasing transmission," remarked Rubin, a lead researcher of PolicyLab's COVID-19 forecasting model. "The winter resurgence is beginning."
A report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Friday indicated that COVID vaccines have contributed to more than 600K fewer hospitalizations and over 300K fewer deaths among Medicare beneficiaries in 2021.
As the U.S. COVID vaccine rollout stuttered, the shares of vaccine developers have also plummeted: Leading COVID-19 vaccine makers, Moderna (MRNA), Pfizer (PFE)/ BioNTech (BNTX), and Novavax (NVAX) were among notable biopharma decliners on Wall Street in Q3 2022.