A Covid-19 vaccine is imminent, following news that an interim analysis has shown Pfizer/BioNTech’s candidate was 90% effective in protecting people from transmission of the virus in global trials.
It has only been a matter of months, but scientists have said the public should be reassured the speed in which the vaccine has been developed does not mean it is not safe.
The vaccine performed much better than most experts had hoped for, according to the companies’ analysis, and brings into view a potential end to a pandemic that has killed more than a million people.
The companies have said that no “serious safety concerns” have emerged so far, but they will continue to collect data.
For safety purposes, the same number of people (nearly 45,000) as any vaccine trial had to be tested and in the same time frame.
Professor Heidi Larson, director of the Vaccine Confidence Project, said the process was able to be shortened by efficiencies that have not been seen before.
Global stocks surged to record highs on the news, while companies that have become synonymous with lockdowns in the west, including Zoom’s video conferencing and food delivery firms, saw falls in their value.
Manufacturing is already under way. Pfizer said they expect to supply globally up to 50m vaccine doses in 2020 and up to 1.3bn doses in 2021. Countries will decide who they prioritise for vaccination. In the UK, the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation has recommended that – presuming the vaccines work well enough in elderly people – the first vaccines go to care home workers and residents, followed by anybody over 80 and other health and social care workers.
It is not yet clear whether or not the vaccine could protect against coronavirus infection or simply against developing symptoms once you are infected.
BioNTech, the small German biotechnology company founded by husband and wife Uğur Şahin and Özlem Türeci, both born to Turkish immigrant parents, and the Austrian oncologist Christopher Huber are the originators of the vaccine.
It originally set out to develop new types of immunotherapy for cancer, but has concentrated its capacities on the race for a Covid-19 vaccine.
The 90% effectiveness rate was calculated seven days after the second shot, but these results are likely to change as data is collected over the longer term. Regulators have previously said they would approve a vaccine that has just a 50% effectiveness rate – protecting half of those who get vaccinated.
Dr Albert Bourla, the Pfizer chairman and chief executive. “Today is a great day for science and humanity. The first set of results from our phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19."
“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development programme at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”
Pfizer and BioNTech still have to finish the trial so there is a risk it is not as effective once the trial is complete, but scientists agree it is likely to remain well above 50%.
Flu vaccines are only 40-60% effective as the virus evolves every year, while two doses of the measles vaccine are 97% effective.