Can Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine End the Pandemic? BioNTech's CEO Believes So
Monday, U.S. pharma giant Pfizer and German partner BioNTech announced their jointly developed vaccine had exceeded all expectations with data suggesting 90% effectiveness in preventing COVID-19 illness.
Efficacy percentages could shift as more data is accumulated from the trial, but this initial read, done when the case count hit 94 participants, seems promising.
BioNTech CEO Uğur Şahin is the scientist behind the first COVID-19 vaccine to get Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Before Monday’s results, he was hopeful, but not positive, his vaccine would trigger a strong enough immune response to really target the virus and eliminate it. He’s singing a different tune this week.
In an interview, Şahin said, “If the question is whether we can stop this pandemic with this vaccine, then my answer is: yes, because I believe that even protection only from symptomatic infections will have a dramatic effect.”
The current trials can’t prove the vaccine will stop transmission of SARS-CoV-2, but it does appear to be preventing people from falling ill. These initial results have Şahin saying his product can “bash the virus over the head” and free us from the hostage-like situation the world has been in for most of 2020.
Even with these encouraging results, many logistical hurdles for the vaccine remain.
The Pfizer candidate has extreme cold storage requirements, needing freezers set at –100 degrees Fahrenheit. While many big-city hospitals rush to buy ultra-cold freezers for the vaccines, rural hospitals may not be able to afford them. It’ll certainly be an issue for tropical and remote island communities around the globe.
Pfizer told Reuters that it had developed detailed logistical plans and tools to support vaccine transport, storage and continuous temperature monitoring. “We have also developed packaging and storage innovations to be fit for purpose for the range of locations where we believe vaccinations will take place."
While Pfizer and BioNtech have been investing in increasing manufacturing capabilities, providing a vaccine for the world is a tall order. Pfizer’s deal with the U.S. government was for 100 million doses. But each patient needs two doses in order to be fully vaccinated. So this initial supply will only be received by about 50 million Americans. Front-line health workers and those most vulnerable will be first on the list to be vaccinated.
Despite Pfizer’s success coming first, other companies continue to push their vaccine candidates through clinical trials to prove efficacy in hopes to take it to global commercialization. Our best hope for ending the pandemic may be not one single effort but a combined one. Moderna is expected to have data by the end of the month for their mRNA vaccine program, with hopes of submitting an EUA to the FDA by the end of the year.