Science

COVID-19 vaccine shown to be 90% effective

COVID-19
The UK has already ordered 30 million doses of the vaccine. Source: gerald (via Pixabay)
New COVID-19 vaccine tested on over 43,000 patients and seen to be 90% effective in 94 volunteers. The UK has already ordered 30m doses.

By Holly Giles | Deputy Editor 

A new COVID vaccine has been shown to be over 90% effective in preliminary studies including over 43,000 people. The vaccine has been tested on participants in over six countries and is described as both safe and effective. 

The vaccine has been developed by Pfizer and BioNTech who describe the results as a “great day for science and humanity” and is giving hope to politicians and policy makers everywhere that normality may be on the horizon.

This is not the first vaccine to be trialled for COVID-19 as there are currently over ten prototypes in the final stages of clinical trials however, this is the first vaccine to show any results. 

It is an RNA vaccine which works by injecting part of the virus’s genetic code (RNA) which invades cells and causes them to display the coronavirus protein on their surface. This triggers an immune reaction where the body makes antibodies to target and destroy the infected cells. These antibodies are then remembered so that if the patient encounters coronavirus again the body is able to produce antibodies before the infection can spread, making them immune.

It is important to recognise that this is not a one-shot fix; the vaccine needs two doses, three weeks apart and the 90% protection is only achieved one week after the second dose (a month after the initial vaccination).  

Despite this deal, Pfizer believes it will be able to supply 50 million doses by the end of 2020 and 1.3 billion by the end of 2021. Although the UK has already ordered 30 million doses, it is not yet clear how this will be administered to or divided among the population. It has been speculated the vaccine will first be given to key workers and then to the vulnerable. 

Reflecting on the work, Dr Albert Bourla, the Chairman and CEO of Pfiza, said:

“we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis”. 

He continued: “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… 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”

Currently, the vaccine has been tested on 43,500 individuals but the new results are based on the first 94 volunteers; this means the 90% figure may change as more results are gathered. The company needs to reach 124 cases to be able to take their vaccine to regulators, which is expected to occur in the third week of November. 

The team have also extended their study to look at whether the vaccine can provide long-term protection against COVID-19 as it is not known how long the protection lasts or if it decreases over time. The study will also widen its scope to look at the effect on severe COVID-19 cases, termed “long-term COVID”. 

An additional concern for researchers is that while they may have made a vaccine, there are concerns people will be unwilling to take it. In a US research poll conducted in September, it was reported that 51% of US adults would be unwilling to get a vaccine if it was available then. This figure dropped from 72% in May but, with vaccines becoming available, this behaviour may be subject to change over the coming months. 

General Gus Perna, who runs Operation Warp Speed in America, explained: “We get vaccines to the American people and they don’t take them. Shame on us”. He went on to add that people already having had the virus may make them feel they don’t need a vaccine. 

Whilst it is unclear what proportions of UK citizens are against the vaccine, it offers hope to many key workers and vulnerable people that they may be able see friends and family at Christmas without risking their health. It marks a key milestone in the battle against COVID-19 and suggests that at last science may be winning. 

Science and Technology Holly Giles

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