When we first heard about COVID-19 spreading in China, we could have never imagined that it would go on to become a world pandemic and would literally bring all our lives to a screeching halt. In fact, there were some among us who were still hopeful even after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO. An eternal optimist, I was actually one of these people. I gave the pandemic two months tops and was cent per cent sure that “something” would happen and it would just disappear.
Well, that’s what I thought back in March 2020 and how my intuition has failed me this year is quite apparent by now. But I am pretty sure that I am not alone. However, just when the likes of me were beginning to give up on all those hopes, some amazing news came our way in the form of Pfizer’s vaccine candidate.
UPDATE: We are proud to announce, along with @BioNTech_Group, that our mRNA-based #vaccine candidate has, at an interim analysis, demonstrated initial evidence of efficacy against #COVID19 in participants without prior evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection.— Pfizer Inc. (@pfizer) November 9, 2020
Just when COVID-19 cases were beginning to surge across countries like India and the US yet again, Pfizer and its partner, BioNTech, shared preliminary results for their vaccine candidate on Monday. These results suggest that their COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90 per cent effective, which is great given that 50 % effectiveness is all that has been set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Needless to say, this is welcome news and even led to a surge in global stock market trends after it came out. All in all, if this vaccine turns out to be as successful as anticipated, then we are inching closer to the pandemic’s end. Here’s everything that you need to know about Pfizer’s vaccine candidate:
In the previously-published data on their vaccine candidate, Pfizer and BioNtech had revealed that it showed promise by generating a strong immune response against SARS-CoV-2, and was safe with no serious side effects. Besides promoting a robust immune response, initial findings had also revealed that it spurred strong T-cell responses, which plays a crucial role in long term protection that a vaccine can help you with.
After the latest findings, it is now being claimed that the vaccine is almost 90% effective. This finding is based on data collected after testing the vaccine on 43,500 people and no safety concerns have been raised.
“This is a historical moment,” said Kathrin Jansen, a senior vice president and the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer after the news. “This was a devastating situation, a pandemic, and we have embarked on a path and a goal that nobody ever has achieved—to come up with a vaccine within a year.”
To get approvals from the Food and Drug Administration, Pfizer is required to collect at least two months of safety data. The company would need time till late November to finish their data collection. Given that this safety data checks out and is up to the mark, the company can then apply for a fast-track emergency authorisation from the FDA.
It is no surprise that the development of the vaccine is only the first step towards a COVID-19 free world, given that distribution happens to be the next big challenge. While the company aims to deliver at least 1.3 billion doses by the end of 2021 even that is not enough to vaccinate the entire world. Additionally, we also have no data on the longevity of the immune response as triggered by this vaccine.
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine relies on synthetic genes for its messenger RNA (mRNA) technology. The good part is that these synthetic genes can be easily manufactured in weeks, thus making large scale production of these vaccines easier than conventional vaccines.
In contrast to traditional vaccines, this one functions by tricking the host’s immune system into producing viral proteins itself. These proteins are of course harmless but potent enough to trigger an immune response.
Besides the basic logistics and availability issues, the biggest challenge that Pfizer's vaccine posits is the storage. The vaccine needs to be stored in ultracold temperatures (-70 degrees celsius) and the company has thus designed a special case for the vaccine. Medical freezers that go down to up to that temperature are rare to be found even in the US and European countries. This is a huge challenge given that billions of people potentially at risk right now are in countries that do not necessarily have the infrastructure to store huge quantities of these vaccines.
Last month, the WHO had recognised as many as 42 vaccine candidates in the stage of clinical trials and ten of them in the advanced level stage 3 trials. This is the stage when the vaccine is finally tested on a large scale so as to determine its effectiveness. It is great news that one of the vaccines to reach the advanced stage has already started showing great promise. Perhaps the end of the coronavirus pandemic is near. *fingers crossed*
PS: COVID-19 got you worried? Here are some products that will help you relax by keeping you virus-free 24*7:
Featured Image: Twitter