Created without US Government funding, the BioNTech and Pfizer vaccine is revealed to be over 90% effective against COVID-19
As announced by President Trump via Twitter earlier today (9 November), the stock market is indeed up in the wake of President Elect Biden’s nomination. Secondly, the US vaccine created by BioNTech and Pfizer turns out to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19, as shown during the Phase 3 study.
The COVID-19 virus has killed 238,000 people in the US, with 1.26 million deaths worldwide. The virus appears to be mutating, which is an unfortunate development that epidemiologists have been attempting to navigate as they continue to trial their vaccines.
“The virus is changing and changing, but it is keeping the things that are most useful or interesting for itself,” says Gustavo Caetano-Anolles, professor of bioinformatics in the Department of Crop Sciences at Illinois and senior author on a study that captured the latest mutation of COVID-19.
The eyes of the world are on the UK, China, US and Germany, who are leading the race to create a fully functioning and safe vaccine that can then be used by whole populations. Countries in lockdown are longing for the vaccine to release them from increasing mental and economic burdens.
Currently, it appears that the US and Germany vaccine collaboration will be the first across the line.
Pfizer vaccine could be the first one given to populations
The clinical study done by BioNTech and Pfizer has 43,538 people, with a success rate of over 90%. This means that nearly 40,000 people were protected from catching COVID-19 after they took this vaccine – showing no signs of the virus after being exposed to it. Crucially, 42% of the participants were of diverse racial backgrounds, meaning that the vaccine will function to protect those who have been shown to be most vulnerable to contracting and dying from the virus.
Why is the vaccine not ready for use right now?
The clinical trial will continue to collect every ounce of data and make sure that the vaccine is performing satisfactorily in other ways. The two companies will submit this vaccine for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is expected to happen in the third week of November. This is when the experiment will reach the next safety check. Only after this safety check, can the vaccine be considered for widespread public use.
Why did the US Government not fund this vaccine?
While Vice President Mike Pence claimed that this over 90% effective vaccine was a result of the current administrations’ efforts via Operation Warp Speed, Pfizer actually self-funded this vaccine. Warp Speed was intended to produce and deliver 300 million doses of vaccine to the US population, with the initial doses to be available by January 2021. There’s no current confirmation if this timeline will go ahead.
“We were never part of the Warp Speed,” Kathrin Jansen, a senior vice-president and the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, said in an interview.
“We have never taken any money from the US government, or from anyone.”
Who will get the Pfizer vaccine first?
Currently, there is only speculation. An ethics paper released today in Germany suggests that prioritisation should “not be based on medical-epidemiological findings alone. It is rather the case that ethical and legal considerations should play a decisive role, too.”
In the case of the US, this means that the medically vulnerable should be prioritised but alongside the financially, socially and legally vulnerable. Which communities are worst placed to access the vaccine, to access healthcare? It also extends to consideration of communities criminalised by the law – will immigrant detention centres administer the vaccine to their populations? Research finds that these centres aren’t administering flu shots to detained four year old children, so the ethical framework for COVID-19 vaccine distribution is distinctively absent.
Speaking in September, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general, condemned the possible hoarding of vaccines:
“If and when we have an effective COVID-19 vaccine, we must also use it effectively. I will repeat again: vaccine nationalism will prolong the pandemic, not shorten it.”
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