Ever since the coronavirus (COVID-19) entered the world last December, lives have been changed. At this point no country is untouched by this pandemic and although there have been better and worse months, we are currently in a surge worldwide. Many have been watching the news and looking for answers in the form of a vaccine. Up until last week there have been mixed results from many pharmaceutical companies. Every time a vaccine looked promising something would happen in the trials to pause further review. But last week we received some positive news that leads us to some cautious optimism.
The United States pharmaceutical company Pfizer partnered with German Biotech company BioNTech to create a vaccine, and they have been working fervently for months. According to a press release from BioNTech on November 18, results of the trial showed 95% efficacy for their vaccine candidate, which was composed of a 43,000 person study. The even better news is that efficacy only drops to 94% in people older than 65, showing that those who tend to be most vulnerable will be able to benefit from this vaccine. The trial resulted in 8 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the control group, versus 162 confirmed cases in the placebo group. Overall they are not noticing any serious side effects emerging, only 3.7% of participants noticed minor fatigue after injections.
Similarly to Pfizer/BioNTech results, Moderna released data on November 16 stating that their vaccine candidate was 94.5% effective against the coronavirus. Moderna’s trial consisted of 30,000 participants, half of whom received the vaccine and the other half a placebo. 90 participants in the placebo group contracted COVID-19 and 11 ended up with serious infections. Among the vaccine group, only 5 contracted COVID-19 and none of the 5 ended up with serious infection. Moderna also reported that there were no serious side effects from the vaccine, with only a small number of participants reporting minor symptoms like headaches or body aches. (source: CNN)
Both the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines offer a new technology that has not been previously used in vaccines. “The vaccines deliver messenger RNA, or mRNA, which is a genetic recipe for making the spikes that sit atop the coronavirus. Once injected, the body’s immune system makes antibodies to the spikes. If a vaccinated person is later exposed to the coronavirus, those antibodies should stand at the ready to attack the virus”(CNN). With both vaccine trials showing such positive data from their results, we can see that the mRNA technology can be very effective in virus protection.
According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has stated there is a chance that the vaccine will be ready for dispersal in late December. The CDC is still set to meet to determine how to allocate vaccines to those who need it most first. Healthcare and front line workers, as well as the most vulnerable and immunocompromised individuals will likely be the first to receive either vaccine, once it has FDA approval for distribution. There are also some differences with the two vaccines that could pose some challenges with making it readily available throughout the entire country. When Pfizer/BioNTech announced their findings earlier in the week they also explained that the vaccine needs to be stored at below 75 degrees celsius, which is colder than any other vaccine. Most drug stores and hospitals/doctors offices don’t have freezers with the capacity to get this cold. Although some larger cities and larger organizations may be able to obtain new freezers by the time the vaccine is available, it is likely that not every suburban or rural area will have the capacity to store this vaccine. On the other hand, Moderna’s vaccine only needs to be stored at below 20 degrees celsius and other vaccines are the same, making this version of the vaccine more accessible to a wider market.
There is no confirmed word yet for when a vaccine from either manufacturer will be available to the widespread population in the United States, but some sources have said it could be this coming Spring. In the meantime, continue practicing safe protocols- like social distancing, wearing masks in public, minimizing group gatherings, washing hands regularly and keeping your body healthy from the inside out. Patience is important in these trying times of pandemic fatigue and with the holidays upon us. As always, we remember how strong and capable we are to get through hard times together.