A step closer? A look into Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine

Nov 24, 2020
Health expert Ross Walker looks into the effectiveness of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine. Source: Getty.

Multi-national drug company Pfizer has just published a press release lauding the benefits of their new Covid-19 vaccine. This particular vaccine, known as an mRNA vaccine, was tested in a phase three clinical trial, for example, using an active and placebo group.

Almost 44,000 people participated and 94 cases of Covid-19 were reported. The press release suggested a 90 per cent improvement one week after the second dose. Two doses of the vaccine or placebo were given a month apart and then all patients were evaluated one week later. No patients in the trial experienced significant side effects.

The trial commenced in late July 2020 and the last patients were evaluated in early November. They will be monitored for two years.

Pfizer has announced that they will have 50 million doses available by 2020 and 1.3 billion doses available at some stage next year.

An mRNA vaccine contains a piece of genetic code of the coronavirus that trains the immune system to recognise the spike protein on the virus surface. It’s the spike protein that allows the virus to gain entry into cells and then leads to infection.

The Pfizer vaccine is totally different from the much-discussed Oxford vaccine, which uses an altered adenovirus (which basically causes a cold in monkeys) linked to part of the spike protein. The Oxford group, in conjunction with AstraZeneca, are aiming to recruit 50,000 volunteers in Brazil, the United Kingdom, United States and South Africa.

To date, apart from one person having an adverse reaction from which they have recovered, those administered the vaccine have had no major side effects and it’s looking effective in the vast majority of people who receive it, including the older population.

Although I believe any advances in vaccine technology for any condition are very exciting and, in this case, hopefully allowing our lives to return to normal, there are some questions this dramatic press release didn’t answer.

Most importantly, the press release said that the vaccine was 90 per cent effective. It didn’t, however, explain what this actually meant. Was it 90 per cent effective at stopping Covid-19 or was it 90 per cent effective at reducing the severity of the disease? Does this vaccine reduce the spread of coronavirus by 90 per cent? Was the virus tested in the more vulnerable populations such as the elderly, the obese and those with diabetes, hypertension or other chronic illnesses and immune disorders? What was the breakdown between men and women in this trial?

It also didn’t address the significant issue that the vaccine needs to be stored at extremely low temperatures, which would be a problem in terms of transportation and use in lower-income countries where this type of cold storage is not freely available.

However, Pfizer and all of the other research institutions involved in the development of vaccines need to be congratulated on the speed and extent of the research and also the fact the public are continually being informed as to the progress of all these interventions.

There’s no doubt that the world has been crippled by Covid-19, but because of the miracles of modern science it appears we are now closer to a situation where all of our lives could be returning to normal.

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What are your thoughts on this? Will you get the vaccine if it's available?

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