…as new vaccine breakthroughs offer hope
Two U.S. drug firms announced this week that their experimental Covid-19 vaccines appear to be roughly 95 percent effective in preventing sickness, fueling optimism that millions of Americans could receive shots by the end of this year. Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, delivered the first complete set of results from a late-stage vaccine trial, reporting that of the study’s nearly 44,000 participants, 170 became infected with Covid-19. Only eight of those cases were in volunteers who received the vaccine; the rest were in participants that got a placebo. Pfizer said it will apply to the FDA for emergency authorization “within days.” Biotech firm Moderna, meanwhile, said 95 people in its ongoing 30,000-person trial developed Covid-19 with symptoms; only five of those had received Moderna’s vaccine. That indicates an efficacy rate of 94.5 percent—far above the 50 percent needed for FDA approval.
Both companies’ vaccines use a technology that has never been approved before. In traditional vaccines, a patient is injected with dead viral material, which triggers the body to produce specialized antibodies. The experimental vaccines use a synthetic version of coronavirus genetic material that leads human cells to produce copies of the virus’ outer spike proteins. Those proteins spark the immune system to mount a defense. If Pfizer’s vaccine is approved, federal officials hope to immunize 20 million high-risk Americans in December. “The light at the end of the tunnel is getting a little brighter,” said infectious-disease expert Dr. William Schaffner.
What the columnists said
“These vaccines could change the game,” said David Axe in TheDailyBeast.com. It’s encouraging that Pfizer’s shot seems to work well on older people, who sometimes don’t respond to vaccines. And the side effects, so far, appear to be minimal—at worst a headache or temporary fatigue. Still, distribution “will take a huge, coordinated effort.” Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccines require two doses, about three weeks apart. And Pfizer’s has to be kept at minus 94 Fahrenheit, so clinics will have to buy industrial freezers.
Vaccine rollout is “one of the most monumental tasks” facing President-elect Joe Biden, said Greg Sargent in WashingtonPost.com. The federal government is buying 100 million doses of Moderna’s vaccine and the same amount of Pfizer’s. But no distribution plan has been released, and Biden’s team is being “kept in the dark” by the Trump administration. Dr. Moncef Slaoui, head of President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed project, said he wants to brief the incoming administration, calling the vaccine’s timely distribution “a matter of life and death for thousands of people.”
This medical triumph is “stunning,” said Daniel Tenreiro in National Review.com. It typically takes eight years to develop a vaccine. But in only eight months, and using entirely new technology, Pfizer and Moderna have created vaccines that appear to be far more effective than the annual flu shot and about as good as the measles vaccine. Thanks to this historic breakthrough, there’s a chance we’ll be able to “suppress Covid-19 by mid-2021.”