On Monday, the world was treated to the great news that pharmaceutical company Pfizer along with German biotech company BioNTech is developing a vaccine that they deemed to be more than 90% effective in protecting against the coronavirus. This marks the first time a vaccine for COVID had positive results in its late-stage trial so naturally, everyone is hopeful and excited. Here’s what we know so far.
They started developing it in January
Back in late January, BioNTech assembled a 40-person team to work on what they called Project Lightspeed dedicated to creating a vaccine. They sought the help and expertise of Pfizer. The study started with 30,000 participants (mostly from the United States, Argentina, Brazil, and Germany) and expanded to 44,000. Half of the volunteers got a dose of the vaccine while the other half took a placebo. The study revealed that only 94 participants got infected with COVID-19, concluding that the vaccine was 90% effective.
How does it work?
The vaccine uses messenger RNA technology which is a genetic molecule that causes our cells to create protein from the virus. The proteins trigger our immune system to attack the virus which in turn protects us from getting infected. It should be taken in two doses, three weeks apart. Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine will only be able to help protect from infection and studies are yet to say how long one dose will last.
Will there be any side effects?
Researchers and scientists are keeping a close watch for negative side effects on a vaccine that’s about to be introduced to humanity for the first time. They did note that some volunteers experienced fatigue and fever, mild side effects that are comparable to most flu vaccines out there. So yes, Pfizer’s vaccine seems to be safe and the preliminary results from the participants are more than promising.
The trial is still ongoing
But before they start distributing, they still need more time to observe the vaccine and the participants who received the second dose. The development is currently on Phase 3 and the researchers are waiting for the 94 COVID cases to reach 164 before they close the study. Pfizer is set to collect their two-month data by mid-November and will be requesting the Food and Drug Administration to grant them emergency authorization. This will let them distribute the vaccine to millions of people.
While there’s still much left to do, William Gruber, Pfizer’s senior vice president of vaccine clinical research and development, said in an interview that he believes their vaccine is “extraordinary.” “This really bodes well for us being able to get a handle on the epidemic and get us out of this situation,” he said.
Scientists and researchers remain cautious
Pfizer and BioNTech are keeping their info about the vaccine under wraps for the time being. It is yet to be subjected to peer-reviewing and released through medical journals. While scientists and researchers are excited about the possibilities, they’re still cautious. Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy, says that he wants to be realistic. “For a vaccine to really have maximal impact, it’s going to have to also reduce severe illness and death. And we just don’t know yet,” he added.
There are plans to make it available globally by the end of 2020
Pfizer is hopeful that they will be able to distribute 50 million doses by the end of the year once the vaccine is finalized and authorized. They’re projecting to make 1.3 billion doses available by the end of 2021. Frontliners and the most vulnerable populations will be prioritized before the general public.
Are there other vaccines being developed?
Many other scientists, researchers, and labs around the world are on a race against time as they scramble to develop a vaccine for approval. The New York Times reports that there are at least 52 vaccines being tested in clinical trials on humans and 87 on animals. Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, and Sputnik V are just some of them. We need to wait for a few more months, if not years, for the first vaccine to be officially approved.
All that’s left is to wait
We’re closer to the vaccine, which means we’re closer to regaining our old lives. “This is a victory for innovation, science, and a global collaborative effort,” said Prof. Ugur Sahin, BioNTech co-founder and CEO. “…while we are all in the midst of a second wave and many of us in lockdown, we appreciate even more how important this milestone is on our path towards ending this pandemic and for all of us to regain a sense of normality.”
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