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The CEO of the drugmaker Pfizer warned Wednesday that a fourth COVID-19 shot may be needed earlier than expected as research shows the omicron variant may be able to evade some of the protection the company’s vaccine provides.

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Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chief executive, said lab experiments run since the variant was recognized in November suggest that Pfizer’s two-dose regimen still provides some protection against severe illness from the variant and that a booster shot offers even more protection.

Scientists at Pfizer have said a fourth shot, likely targeting the omicron variant, would probably be needed around 12 months after a person gets his or her third shot.

Bourla said Wednesday that the timeline might need to be moved up after preliminary research showed the omicron variant can undermine some of the protection offered by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 40 people in the United States have tested positive for the omicron variant. Nearly all of them showed mild symptoms, according to Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC.

Some 200 million people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, which is just over 60% of the country’s population.

This week, the World Health Organization said that preliminary testing suggests omicron is much more transmissible than the delta variant, but is likely less deadly, at least for those who have been vaccinated.