The world is fast approaching the one-year anniversary of the discovery of the deadly virus COVID-19, which quickly turned 2020 into the year of the lockdown. Most countries lifted their internal travel restrictions for the summer months, allowing people to enjoy the sunshine whilst they could. However, just as soon as summer ended, many countries began to see a resurgence in COVID-19 cases and thus, we are back in lockdown again.
However, good news is on the horizon as pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech recently announced a potential effective vaccine for COVID-19.
The work on this COVID-19 vaccine started in January, led by a husband and wife team, Dr. Ugur Sahin and Dr. Özlem Türeci. What makes this vaccine story unique is that BioNTech (Dr. Sahin’s company) started work on this vaccine in January, almost two months before the global pandemic was announced by the World Health Organization. Dr. Sahin recalls that he was reading an article about the spread of COVID-19 in China and predicted it would be the cause of the next global pandemic.
The announcement came just over a week ago and the results so far are very promising, showing a 90% effectivity rate in preventing the virus amongst its trial volunteers. At the current moment, the vaccine is in phase trials, meaning that the vaccine as well as a placebo are given to thousands of participants to monitor its effectiveness and highlight potential risks. During this current Phase 3 trial, Pfizer and BioNTech have recruited over 30,000 participants located in the USA, Brazil and Germany. Dr Sahin stated that “it could be the beginning of the end of the Covid era.”
Now that we potentially have a vaccine for this deadly virus, what exactly does this mean for the rest of the world? Currently, it is a step forward but it is still just a step. For the world to have effective herd immunity, 50% of the population will need to be vaccinated. Reaching less developed countries, the ones which have been hit extremely hard by the virus, will prove extremely difficult with Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine.
Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine is composed from mRNA which means it must be stored at extremely low temperatures (-88 degrees Celsius) to keep the structure of the vaccine together, thus making international transport extremely difficult. To deal with this problem, Pfizer has started to design deep-freeze boxes that will allow for transport and storage of the vaccine. However, these boxes are not expected to keep cool for more than one week, presenting another problem of vaccinating in rural areas.
Despite these possible problems it is believed that Pfizer and BioNTech will apply for emergency use of their vaccine in the US by the end of November, as they already have a deal with the Trump Administration for 100 million doses to be given to the USA by December, at the cost of 1.9 billion dollars.
Therefore, we can conclude that this is good news and a step forward to ending the almost year-long COVID-19 crisis. It is also important to note that another pharmaceutical company, Moderna, has also recently reported similar findings to the Pfizer vaccine and they are too also in Phase 3 trials. Thus, this gives us even more hope that our lifestyles can return to some sort of normalcy in the near future.