An end to the pandemic could be in sight, after manufacturers announced that a leading Covid-19 vaccine is more than 90 per cent effective – a much better performance than experts had hoped for.
The developers – Pfizer and German firm BioNTech – hailed the preliminary results as a “great day for science and humanity”. Their vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people across six countries – and no safety concerns have been raised.
It is a major breakthrough in the battle against Covid-19, raising hopes that the shot could be available for use by the end of the year if given the green light by drug authorities. The companies plan to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of November.
‘Great day for humanity’
Most promising is the high percentage of those protected by the Pfizer/BioNTech jab. Regulators have said they would approve a vaccine that is only 50 per cent effective, protecting half those receiving it. According to the World Health Organisation, no vaccine is 100 per cent effective.
“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,” said Dr Albert Bourla, the Pfizer chairman and CEO.
“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”
It is the first independent analysis of any Covid-19 vaccine in advanced phase 3 trials – the final stage before mass commercial licensing.
The study revealed that 94 participants receiving the vaccine were protected against the novel coronavirus 28 days after their first inoculation.
‘The best possible outcome’
The jab uses an experimental approach, which involves injecting part of the virus’s genetic code in order to train the immune system against it. Two doses are required, three weeks apart.
Pfizer and BioNTech said that up to 50 million doses of the vaccine could be produced this year, and another 1.3 billion doses manufactured in 2021.
Global stocks reached a record high on Monday, with Pfizer’s shares quickly jumping by 10 per cent after news of the vaccine’s effectiveness was released.
The UK has a pre-existing agreement to procure 30 million doses, with ten million provided by the end of the year – enough to vaccinate five million Brits. Care home residents and staff will be first receive a dose, if it wins regulatory approval.
The US has secured orders for 100 million, with an option to purchase another 500 million. A supply deal for 200 million doses with the EU is being negotiated.
“To me, this is the best possible outcome,” Uğur Şahin – co-founder and chief executive of BioNTech – told the Financial Times. “The risk-benefit profile is in clear favour of benefit, it fulfils all the criteria to be processed fast.”
A string of challenges remain. The results were released in a press statement, and are not the result of a peer-reviewed study. Questions linger over how long immunity against Covid-19 last, and the vaccine has to be kept in ultra-cold storage at below minus 80C, which presents logistical challenges.
Nonetheless, it is the most positive news so far in the fight against coronavirus – and will raise hopes that life will be able to return to a semblance of normality by early 2021.