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BioNTech founders predict pandemic will spread for at least another year

BioNTech founders predict pandemic will spread for at least another year
© DANIEL ROLAND/AFP via Getty Images

The founders of BioNTech, the German biotechnology company that developed a prominent coronavirus vaccine with Pfizer, are predicting that the pandemic likely will continue into 2022 as new waves of the infection surge in countries with limited vaccine supplies. 

During The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit on Tuesday, BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin warned that COVID-19 will continue to spread unless countries do more to ramp up vaccine distribution in countries such as India, which on Tuesday became the second country to record 20 million coronavirus infections

“We need to ensure really high vaccination rates worldwide. Otherwise, no one will be safe,” Şahin said, adding that the pandemic will end only once the entire globe reaches herd immunity. 

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“By mid-2022, even regions with high density populations like India will reach a high rate of vaccination and herd immunity,” Şahin, who founded BioNTech with his wife, Özlem Türeci, explained Tuesday, according to the Journal. 

He went on to say that over the next year, the world will see “an increasing number of industrial, developing and low-income countries reaching this type of herd immunity just by increasing the manufacturing capacity of the currently existing players and adding new manufacturing sites.”

Türeci, BioNTech’s chief medical officer, argued that mixing and matching shots from different manufacturers could be necessary to more quickly reach herd immunity, a practice the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said earlier this year should be done with the Pfizer and Moderna shots only in “exceptional situations.”

“The more vaccines we have available, the better. ... We can obviously mix and match them in principle,” Türeci said Tuesday. “At the end of the day, we want to achieve herd immunity. We want to achieve as many vaccinated people as possible.”

BioNTech has committed itself to adding more manufacturing sites to better supply shots to low-income countries and has teamed up with Pfizer for global distribution except in Germany, China and Turkey. In those countries, BioNTech is operating on its own or working with other manufacturing partners, the Journal reported. 

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India has opened COVID-19 vaccinations to all adults amid the most recent surge, and other nations have announced plans to send supplies to the country, whose population is more than 1 billion people. 

On Monday, the Pentagon announced it would be sending to India four large cargo planes filled with “critical supplies,” including oxygen generation capabilities and personal protective gear. 

The surge in India, which experts have connected to a lack of COVID-19 restrictions and a more contagious variant of the virus, comes as the South Asian country’s daily rate of vaccinations has fallen from an all-time high last month. 

Reuters reported Tuesday that just about 9.5 percent of India’s population has been fully vaccinated amid limited imports and as companies struggle to increase vaccine supply.