Pharma giant announces covid-19 breakthrough with vaccine which is ‘more than 90% effective’
A major breakthrough has been announced in the search for a coronavirus vaccine, with the jab from Pfizer found to be more than 90% effective.
The pharmaceutical giant and its partner BioNTech said interim results showed their jab could prevent people developing Covid-19.
Dr Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and chief executive, said: “Today is a great day for science and humanity.”
Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, said: “This news made me smile from ear to ear.”
The FTSE 100 jumped more than 5.5% on the news, adding £82 billion to the value of its shares in the market’s best day since March.
The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised.
Downing Street welcomed the results as “promising” and said the UK will have procured 10 million doses by the end of the year to be given out if it is approved.
The UK has secured 40 million doses in total of the vaccine.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The results are promising and while we are optimistic of a breakthrough, we must remember there are no guarantees.”
Pfizer and BioNTech plan to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration – the US medicines regulator – by the end of the month for emergency approval to use the vaccine.
About 12 Covid-19 vaccines around the world are currently in the final stages of testing, but Pfizer’s is the first to report any results.
Dr Bourla (pictured) said: “The first set of results from our Phase three Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19.”
He added: “We will continue to collect further data as the trial continues to enrol, for a final analysis planned when a total of 164 confirmed Covid-19 cases have accrued.
“I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to make this important achievement possible.”
Prof Horby said the news “bodes well for Covid-19 vaccines in general”.
He added: “Of course we need to see more detail and await the final results, and there is a long long way to go before vaccines will start to make a real difference, but this feels to me like a watershed moment.”
Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading, said the Pfizer trial data shows “really impressive protection and no reported adverse events”.
He said: “Of all the current vaccines currently in development, the BioNtech product always looked like the most bang-per-buck as it is entirely focused on the part of the virus that binds to the human cell, the receptor binding domain.
“The questions around its use were about the ability to manufacture at scale and the possible toxicity associated with a directly injected RNA product.
“The trial data show excellent results in both of those areas, really impressive protection and no reported adverse events.”
Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health, University of
Southampton, added: “This cautiously sounds like an excellent result from the phase three trials, but we should remain a little cautious.
“If the final results show an effectiveness of anywhere near 90% with response in elderly and ethnic minority populations, that is an excellent result for a first generation vaccine.”
Professor Azra Ghani, chair of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said that long-term efficacy data would come over coming weeks and months.
Prof Ghani said: “These new results represent the first demonstration of substantial efficacy of a vaccine candidate against Covid-19 disease, which is very welcome news.
“The efficacy estimate is based on seven days of follow-up of participants following the second dose; further data in the coming weeks and months will provide a better picture of longer-term vaccine efficacy.”
People will need two doses of the jab, meaning not enough shots have been secured for the entire UK population.
Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses globally in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.
The data from the full phase three trial will be submitted for scientific peer-review publication.
The vaccine has been shown to produce both an antibody and T-cell response in the body to fight coronavirus.
Prof Ugur Sahin, one of the founders of BioNTech, described the results as a “milestone”.
Work has been going on behind the scenes to ensure that staff are ready to start delivering jabs to the most vulnerable, as well as health and care workers, as a priority.
Apart from the work of scientists and academics, months of work has gone into preparing for the delivery of a vaccine.
Mass vaccination clinics have been proposed, with a number of venues suggested, including sports halls, leisure centres and even the Copper Box stadium in London’s Olympic Park.
The NHS Nightingale Hospitals have also been earmarked as sites for mass vaccination clinics – among other uses.
In addition, NHS leaders have said there will be “roving teams” deployed to vaccinate care home residents and workers.
Consideration will also have to be given to the storage of the vaccine, with some of the vaccine candidates needing special storage in ultra-low temperature freezers, not the typical fridges which are found at a run-of-the-mill GP surgery.
And health leaders have been in discussions over how to get people to return for any subsequent doses if needed.
There are more than 200 vaccine candidates in clinical trials.
But rather than buying stock of each, the Government created a taskforce to pick the best six.
Once selected, it then ploughed millions of pounds into securing doses of each of the front-runners.
The taskforce has struck agreements to buy 350 million doses of vaccine candidates across a range of different types.
These include: 40 million doses of the BioNTech/Pfizer vaccine which has reported positive results; 100 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab; 60 million doses of the vaccine created by GSK and Sanofi Pasteur; 60 million doses of the Valneva inoculation; 60 million doses of the Novavax jab; and 30 million doses of the Janssen not-for-profit vaccine.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said it has funded several vaccine manufacturing sites to ensure there is no “bottleneck” in production.
Vaccine transport has also been taken into consideration, and the additional personal protective equipment (PPE) needed for staff delivering the vaccines has formed part of the discussions.
Any new medicine has to be approved by regulators, and the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has been working to ensure that it prioritises reviews of Covid vaccines.
Regulators usually assess results at the end of the clinical trial process, but for some vaccine candidates it has said it will carry out a rolling data review to speed up the process.
In addition to the efforts of the Government, the health service and other arms-length bodies, people across the general population have helped research towards getting a safe vaccine.
More than 300,000 Britons have signed up to take part in clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of a vaccine.
Is this big news?
Yes. These are interim findings and studies will continue but analysis shows that the Pfizer vaccine can prevent more than 90% of people from getting Covid-19.
The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised.
Pfizer plans to apply to the US regulator the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of the month.
The analysis was carried out after 94 confirmed cases of Covid-19 were found among those taking part in the trial.
What type of vaccine is this?
The jab is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.
Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus’s genetic code.
An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.
These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.
What are the advantages of this type of vaccine?
No actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine. This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced is dramatically accelerated.
As a result, mRNA vaccines have been hailed as potentially offering a rapid solution to new outbreaks of infectious diseases.
They can also be modified reasonably quickly if, for example, a virus develops mutations and begins to change.
mRNA vaccines are also cheaper to produce than traditional vaccines. But both will play an important role in tackling Covid-19.
Are they safe?
All vaccines undergo rigorous testing and have oversight from experienced regulators.
Some believe mRNA vaccines are safer for the patient as they do not rely on any element of the virus being injected into the body.
mRNA vaccines have been tried and tested in the lab and on animals but the coronavirus vaccine will be the first one licensed for use in humans.
The human trials of mRNA vaccines – involving tens of thousands of people – have been going on since early 2020 to show whether it is safe and effective.
Pfizer will continue to collect safety and long-term outcomes data from participants for two years.
Do we have enough doses to vaccinate the UK population?
The UK has secured 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine – the first agreement the firms signed with any government.
People will need two doses, meaning not enough shots have been secured for the entire UK population.
However, it is likely other vaccines will announce results from their clinical trials shortly.
Who will be vaccinated first?
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has examined data on who suffers the worst outcomes from coronavirus and who is at highest risk of death.
Its interim guidance says the order of priority should be:
- Older adults in a care home and care home workers
- All those aged 80 and over and health and social care workers, though they may move up the list
- Anyone 75 and over
- People aged 70 and over
- All those aged 65 and over
- High-risk adults under 65
- Moderate-risk adults under 65
- All those aged 60 and over
- All those 55 and over
- All those aged 50 and over
- The rest of the population, with priority yet to be determined.
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