The entire world has been waiting for a vaccine for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic in March. In response, a number of pharmaceutical companies have entered the race to develop one, with Pfizer as a major contender. On November 7, Pfizer announced that their vaccine appears to stop nine out of ten people from contracting the virus, putting their vaccine in the lead. Here are some important things to know about it.
What Does it Consist Of?
This vaccine is made of mRNA that are inside tiny particles that take them into the cell, where they then stimulate an immune response to create antibodies for COVID-19. A number of other vaccine candidates employ this strategy as well.
How Long Are Patients Protected?
It’s difficult to tell how long this vaccine will shield patients from the virus, as little time has passed since its creation and most of the information we know about it is from Pfizer’s press releases. However, we do know that only 94 out of the 40,000 participants in the trial have gotten COVID-19. Pfizer did not release the number of those who had fallen ill and also been vaccinated, but they did release their 90% efficacy figure, which implies that the number was very small.
Essentially, we only know that this vaccine protects for at least two to three months, which is the duration of the trial. In normal circumstances, vaccines are not approved by the FDA unless they protect patients for a year or two, but these are not normal circumstances. A member of the FDA panel that is slated to review the vaccine stated that it is a “reasonable bet, but still a gamble” that it will protect for six months to a year.
Will it Protect Those Who Are Most Vulnerable?
This is another question that we need more knowledge to answer. Pfizer has not released the percentage of patients in the trial who fall into high risk groups, even though a number of vaccines fail to protect the elderly despite their protection for young people.
Considering that the older population is being pushed as one of the first to be vaccinated, it should be ensured that the vaccine will actually work for them. The information that we have now suggests that Novavax’s and Sanofi’s vaccines would be better for the elderly due to their immune-stimulating particles.
How Will Roll Out Work?
Because this vaccine has to be kept supercooled on dry ice, Pfizer has created a system of transportation of special cases by truck to vaccination sites. Public health workers are also being trained on how to properly handle the vaccine.
It is important to note that mishandling the vaccine renders it ineffective. This means that roll out needs to be perfect from start to finish to ensure that it remains at the correct temperature. If a case isn’t handled properly, people can be vaccinated with something that doesn’t work. They would believe that they are protected when they aren’t.
Can an Early Announcement Hurt Future Vaccines?
The information that we have now can’t tell us if Pfizer’s vaccine is the best. If it is approved too quickly, it could hurt the development of other vaccines. As other options may be needed, and multiple efforts are required to get a vaccine across the world, other companies must continue their work.
Could This Study Expedite Other Vaccines?
The data from Pfizer’s study could provide insights for other researchers, therefore expediting the development of other vaccines. For example, many scientists are fascinated by the patients who received the vaccine but still got sick, as studies of their blood could tell them if there is a certain number of antibodies needed to protect from COVID-19. This would provide an alternative to testing tens of thousands.
So while we cannot currently tell if the Pfizer vaccine is best equipped to fight the pandemic, we do know that this development brings hope. A vaccine, whether it is this one or another, is coming. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health said that this should “make people realize that we’re not stuck in this situation forever.”
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