After over eight months of COVID-19 induced trepidation across the world, humanity can now heave a sigh of relief as global pharmaceutical giants Pfizer and BioNTech announced on November 9 a major breakthrough in vaccine candidate against the deadly disease.
The announcement provoked instantaneous waves of reactions from world leaders, scientists, and health experts though with a mixture of sentiments.
United States President Donald Trump welcomed the development in an all caps tweet declaring “STOCK MARKET UP BIG, VACCINE IS COMING.” “SUCH GREAT NEWS!” The vaccine breakthrough coincides with Trump’s assurances in September during a White House Press Briefing that a vaccine for effective prevention of the virus would be approved late October.
Meanwhile, United States President-elect, Joe Biden greeted the news but warned that widespread vaccination remained months away. He also announced his team of experts on the advisory board of COVID-19 in the country.
This comes as America officially entered what experts refer to as exponential phase of spread according to Yahoo reports. On November 12, the report said the US saw 160, 000 new cases of the virus, more than any day since the pandemic began.
Britain welcomed the development and expects 10 million doses of the vaccine available by the end of the year if regulators approve it, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said according to Breaking News.ie reports. The spokesman said that Britain had now ordered 40 million doses of the candidate vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, one of six that Britain has agreed supply deals for.
Germany described the vaccine breakthrough as a ’good signal’, Health Minister Jens Spahn told a news conference that data from Pfizer and its partner BioTech on the experimental vaccine was encouraging according to Breaking News.ie “If this should prove true…then it would be a good signal because it shows that vaccine makes a difference,” the health minister said.
In her own reaction, Russian government says “we welcome progress by foreign colleagues in the development of vaccines against the new coronavirus,” Alexander Gintsburg, Director of Mosco’s Gamaleya Institute which developed Russia’s main vaccine candidate, SPUTNIK V, was quoted by Breaking News.ie as saying. He added: “the more vaccines are available in the world, the better people will be protected.”
Italian Health Minister in his reaction said: “Today’s news about the anti-COVID-19 vaccine is encouraging, but caution is still needed. Scientific research is the real key to overcoming the emergency. In the meantime, we must never forget that the behaviour of each of us is essential to bend the curve.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reportedly said the vaccine announcement was very encouraging even as he remarked, “we hope a vaccine is coming early next year. We’re seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Canada has a deal with Pfizer for a minimum of 20 million doses of the vaccine.
President Mohammadu Buhari welcomed the news. In a message posted on his verified twitter handle the Nigerian leader said, “I welcome the news that a Coronavirus vaccine has recorded 90% effectiveness in clinical trials. This is a major milestone. The world must now make great effort to facilitate equitable access and distribution of these vaccines to protect in all countries.”
Bill and Melinda Gates, the world’s richest family in their reaction want to make sure that vaccines for Covid-19 are distributed to people all over the world, including in low-income countries. To that end, Melinda Gates announced on November 12 that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is committing $70 million to develop and deliver affordable vaccines to low- and middle-income countries.
The new funding follows more than $350 million in pledges made earlier this year by the foundation to fund development of Covid-19 diagnostics, treatments and vaccines according to Associated Press.
“Covid-19 anywhere is Covid-19 everywhere,” Melinda Gates said in a statement about the new commitment. “That is why we have to ensure that everyone gets equal access to tests, drugs and vaccines when they are available—no matter where you live in the world.” She made the announcement at the Paris Peace Forum, an event convening heads of state, international organizations and private sector leaders to discuss the global response to the pandemic.
Scientists and health experts have however greeted the vaccine with cautious optimism.” Although the vaccine might not turn out to be quite so effective once the trial is complete and all the data have been analysed, its effectiveness is likely to stay well above 50%,” Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California said according to reports from Nature, a science journal.
“This is the threshold that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says is required for a coronavirus vaccine to be approved for emergency use. I think this is an extraordinary achievement, even without many details, because there was no assurance of vaccine efficacy before we got the first read-out from a trial,” Topol said
Also reacting Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor in Respiratory Sciences and Clinical Virologist, University of Leicester, said: “The results for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine are encouraging – but it is so far based on the outcomes of only 94 participants.
“If the 90% ‘efficacy’ was based on the analysis of 10,000 participants, along with similar safety data, this would be much more reassuring.
“Other practical problems still need to be addressed – how will GPs and other providers deal with the -70C storage? How long can the defrosted vaccine remain useable (up to 5 days?) – So there will be inevitably some wastage if a certain number of doses are defrosted that are then just not used in time?
“Also, this is a new vaccine design – we don’t have any other routinely used licensed viral vaccines based on this mRNA technology. So how will the vaccine perform if repeated boosts are needed if the duration of the vaccine-induced immunity is relatively short?
“And how will the vaccine perform in the elderly and those with comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension and other chronic heart, lung, kidney disease that make them particularly vulnerable to COVID-19? “What about the performance if the vaccine in those who have already had COVID-19 and have circulating antibodies? “What is the reason for those who fail to respond to this vaccine? And will this also be a problem for other COVID-19 vaccines for those individuals?
“Hopefully more data will be forthcoming to give us more reassurance about the efficacy and safety of this new Ofuzer-BioNTech vaccine – and help us understand and perhaps even predict, to some extent, the responses to the other COVID-19 vaccines that are currently in development.”
Apart from securing approval from FDA before it’s made available for use the Time magazine reports that Pfizer’s vaccine candidate, which is reportedly 90% effective at preventing COVID-19, uses genetic material called mRNA. If it’s not kept at extremely cold temperatures, mRNA can break down, rendering the vaccine unusable.
“If the Pfizer vaccine is kept at -70° C, it can last up to six months. But many hospitals, to say nothing of community medical offices and pharmacies, do not have ultra-cold freezers, which cost around $10,000 up front and are expensive to run because of their high energy usage. Retrofitting existing freezers to reach these temperatures isn’t possible either. “It would be like going from a Fiat car to a Tundra truck”—the technology and energy requirements are simply different,” Paula Cannon, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, was quoted by Time as saying.
By Chigbu Nwaobia