Hopes that the coronavirus pandemic will come to an end have spiked this week after news that a coronavirus vaccine was developed. The vaccine proved to be more than 90% effective in preventing the infection which is significantly higher that the 50% effectiveness rate required by regulators- the US Food and Drug Administration’s criteria-. “To me, this is the best possible outcome,” Ugur Sahin, co-founder and chief executive of BioNTech told the FT and Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, said that it was “a great day for science and humanity”. But does that mean the pandemic has ended?
The first Vaccine that uses the novel mRNA technology
The vaccine which is developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech is in the final stage before commercial licensing. The vaccine is expected to be submitted to authorities in the third week of November.
It is worth noting, that this is the first vaccine which uses the mRNA technology -set of instructions by which cells make all proteins and send them to various parts of the body-. BioNTech’s Mr Sahin said he expects the vaccine’s immune response to last for “at least one year”.
Nevertheless, other scientists are still cautious over the outlook of the vaccine as the new data could affect the results and the trial is still continuing.
Is the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine safe?
Pfizer and BioNTech said that no “serious safety concerns” have emerged so far. There are some mild side-effects such as sore arms or fever that are quite common with vaccinations. Since vaccines that use the novel mRNA haven’t until now been approved for use in humans, some people could be allergic to it. The companies will continue to collect data.
Why doesn’t the Vaccine work for 10% of people?
The vaccine will act on different people differently. So you often get different rates of response within populations — it could be that they were all more elderly, or it could be they are from a different racial background, or it could just be that this thing only works nine times out of 10.Dr Stephen Griffin, University of Leeds
Is this the End of the Pandemic?
Hopefully soon. The Phase 3 study is ongoing and new findings can potentially affect results. The 90% effectiveness rate was calculated seven days after the second shot but these results are likely to change as more data is collected. Nevertheless, since the 90% effectiveness is still significantly higher than the 50% threshold, it is very likely that the drug will pass regulatory approval.
But to answer the question of wether or not this vaccine means the end of the pandemic, it is critical to examine whether the drug can be manufactured at scale and whether it can be distributed?
The companies said that up to 50 million doses of the vaccine could be produced this year and another 1.3 billion could be produced next year. These figures seem quite promising as the official coronavirus cases stand at around 50 million cases at the beginning of November 2020.
How will it the vaccine be distributed?
The drug must be stored at about minus 75 degrees Celsius. Currently, doctors’ offices, laboratories and pharmacies don’t have freezers that go that low. This is about 50 degrees colder than any vaccine currently used.
State officials say the first time they heard the specific requirements was during mid October and that they still need time to prepare. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention described the distribution and storage process as “very complex.”
“These [Pfizer Covid-19] vaccines will thaw if exposed to open air for five minutes”Moore, the doctor helping states implement their coronavirus vaccine programs
It is worth noting that Pfizer will manage the distribution of its Covid-19 vaccine on its own instead of through the US government. Pfizer’s thermal shipper that will store the vaccine for providers after delivery.
BioNTech and Pfizer said that they will “use a fair approach” when it came to distributing the first doses of the vaccine. They added that they would prioritize deliveries to countries where the drug had been approved for use.
According to the Financial Times, “the United States has secured orders for 100 million doses of the shot, with an option to acquire another 500 million, while the UK has an agreement to procure 30 million doses.” The European Union is still negotiating a deal that includes 200 million doses.
Dr. Anthony Fauci -the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984- has estimated that the US general population could get the vaccine by April.
Due to the complexities in the distribution among other factors, the drug is -unfortunately – expected to take longer to reach the Middle East.