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Pfizer’s vaccine: 5 things you need to know

Following months of mounting COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations, the entire world was in dire need of some good news. Which is exactly what we got on Montag morning. An interim analysis found that Pfizer’s vaccine candidate was more than 90% effective in preventing the coronavirus.

“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” said Albert Bourla, Pfizer CEO.

So, here are five things you should know about the exciting breakthrough.

What was announced and how it works

Well, the company’s trial involves 43,538 people to date, in six countries, half of whom were administered with the vaccine. The other half were given a placebo – a treatment designed to have no effect whatsoever.

To confirm the efficacy rate, Pfizer said that it would continue its trial until there were 164 COVID-19 cases among volunteers (there are currently 94).

When you get vaccinated, you are usually given either a weakened or dead part of the virus that causes the illness. In this way, the vaccine does not make you ill, but your body recognises that it is a foreign element and mounts an immune response. Therefore, when your body encounters the real virus, it will ready to attack straight away.

The way this new vaccine works, however, is called mRNA. This means that you will not be injected with parts of the virus but rather, you will be administered with a part of the genetic code of the coronavirus. This tricks the body into producing some of the viral proteins itself. In this way, the immune system then detects the proteins and begins to produce a defensive response to them.

The results are better than expected

Experts have long been warning the public that many previous vaccines are nowhere close to being 100% effective. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), set a minimum of 50% effectiveness for a COVID-19 vaccine to be approved. However, these results would not only reach that, but exceed it tremendously.

According to preliminary findings, protection in patients was achieved seven days after the second of two doses, and 28 days after the first.

Though there are still some unknowns and the full data from the clinical trial has not yet been published, “it’s an incredibly high number for most vaccines. Most were expecting 50-70%,” said Bob Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California.

Some outstanding questions include: how long will the vaccine’s protection last? Will people have to return every year to get the shot again? How will the vaccine work in subgroups, such as the elderly?

It won’t be available right away

Here’s the tricky (or trickier) part. The vaccine will not be an immediate game-changer in the fight against the pandemic.

Pfizer needs to wait until at least the last week of November to finish gathering the two months of safety data required by the FDA, and then plans to apply for emergency authorisation.

Even after the process of authorisation, the number of initial doses will be limited and will, of course, go to high-risk groups first, such as health-care workers, the vulnerable and the elderly. Many experts believe that the first doses could be given before the end of 2020, but that much of the general public will not be vaccinated before several months into next year.

something to consider

Pfizer’s vaccine is among the ones requiring storage at ultra cold temperatures. That being said, the company has designed a special carrying case for its vaccine. Medical freezers that go down to -70 degrees Celsius are rare even in the US and European hospitals.Meanwhile, there are billions of people in countries that do not have the necessary infrastructure to maintain the cold chain for either existing vaccines or more conventional coronavirus candidates.

Kim Bencker, Pfizer spokeswoman said that the company was working closely with the US government and state officials on how to ship the vaccine from its distribution centres in the US, Germany and Belgium, around the globe.

The detailed plan includes using dry ice to transport frozen vaccine vials by both air and land at their recommended temperatures for up to 10 days, she said. The vials can be kept in an ultra-low temperature freezer for up to six months, or for five days at 2-8 degrees Celsius. The Pfizer storage units can also be refilled with ice for up to 15 days, she added.

Moderna Inc’s vaccine, on the other hand, which is based on similar technology, does not need to be stored at such low temperatures. Other vaccines including ones from Johnson & Jonhson and Novovax Inc can be stored at 2-8 degrees Celsius, the temperature of a normal refrigerator.

precautions still apply

It is, and we cannot stress this enough, crucial that people continue to take the same precautions. This includes mask-wearing, physical distancing and hand-washing.

The exciting vaccine news is undoubtedly a light at the end of the tunnel for the entire world. That being said, we have not yet won the war.