New hope after dramatic Covid vaccine breakthrough

Tom Flanagan
·News Reporter
·4-min read

Drugmaker Pfizer says its coronavirus vaccine trials have been more than 90 per cent effective in what is a major global development.

As the world eagerly awaits a vaccine for a virus that has killed more than a million people and destroyed the world’s economy, the success Pfizer’s vaccine has had so far is being treated as a watershed moment by experts who previously warned there was no guarantee a vaccine would be readily available in the coming years.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech said they had found no serious safety concerns yet and expected to seek US authorisation this month for emergency use of the vaccine, raising the chance of a regulatory decision as soon as December.

If granted, the companies estimate they can roll out up to 50 million doses this year, enough to protect 25 million people, and then produce up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
Vials with a sticker reading, "COVID-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" and a medical syringe are seen in front of a displayed Pfizer logo in this illustration taken October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Last week Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced the Australian government had secured a deal with Pfizer and BioNTech for 10 million vaccines.

"Today is a great day for science and humanity," said Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla.

"We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen," he said.

Experts said they still wanted to see the full trial data, which have yet to be peer-reviewed or published in a medical journal, but the preliminary results looked encouraging.

"This news made me smile from ear to ear. It is a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and bodes well for COVID-19 vaccines in general," said Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University of Oxford.

There are still many questions, such as how effective the vaccine is by ethnicity or age, and how long it will provide immunity, with the "new normal" of social distancing and face covering set to remain for the foreseeable future.

Pfizer expects to seek US emergency use authorisation for people aged 16 to 85. To do so, it will need two months of safety data from about half the study's 44,000 participants, which is expected in the third week of November.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said it would take several weeks for US regulators to receive and process data on the vaccine before the government could potentially approve it.

The federal government hopes for a vaccine in the latter half of 2021. Source: Getty
The federal government hopes for a vaccine in the latter half of 2021. Source: Getty

‘Get us all out of the circumstances we're now in’

US President Donald Trump welcomed the test results, and the market boost: "STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE COMING SOON. REPORT 90% EFFECTIVE. SUCH GREAT NEWS!" he tweeted.

President-elect Joe Biden said the news was excellent but did not change the fact that face masks, social distancing and other health measures would be needed well into next year.

The World Health Organisation said the results were very positive, but warned there was a funding gap of $4.5 billion that could slow access to tests, medicines and vaccines in low- and middle-income countries.

"I'm near ecstatic," Bill Gruber, one of Pfizer's top vaccine scientists, said in an interview.

"This is a great day for public health and for the potential to get us all out of the circumstances we're now in."

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s tp coronavirus advisor, labelled the trial’s success as “just extraordinary”.

Between 55 per cent and 65 per cent of the population will need to be vaccinated to break the dynamic of the spread of COVID-19, said Germany's health minister Jens Spahn, adding that he did not expect a shot to be available before the first quarter of 2021.

The European Union said on Monday it would soon sign a contract for up to 300 million doses of the Pfizer and BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

The companies have a $1.95 billion contract with the US government to deliver 100 million vaccine doses beginning this year.

They did not receive research funding from the Trump administration's Operation Warp Speed vaccine program.

The drugmakers have also reached supply agreements with the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan.

with Reuters

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