What you need to know about the Corona vaccine from Biontech and Pfizer

Cincinnati Children’s Hospital

In the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, researchers have just made great strides in the search for a vaccine.

The pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced on Monday that the vaccine it had developed together with the German company Biontech was highly effective against Covid-19. The results come from an extensive study, but have not yet been verified by external experts or regulatory authorities.

The news is an important glimmer of hope for many people around the world and immediately spurred on the stock markets. Nevertheless, the pandemic is far from over and you shouldn’t throw away your mask too quickly.

Here’s what you need to know about the Pfizer and Biontech vaccine:

1. Don’t expect to be vaccinated anytime soon

Pfizer announced in a press release on Monday the first results of a study that included 43,538 subjects. Since the study is still ongoing, these are interim results that were obtained after 94 test subjects were infected with Covid-19.

It is the first of many steps to make the vaccine available to the general population. Pfizer plans to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval to use the vaccine in November. Then FDA experts and outside scientists will review the data before deciding whether the vaccine can be given to humans on a larger scale.

In Europe this is done by the European Medicines Agency EMA. The vaccine is evaluated by experts from the German Paul Ehrlich Institute, among others, before it can be approved in Germany.

Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek recently expected that it will take until mid-2021 for a vaccine to be available to the general public. Higher-risk populations, such as the elderly and healthcare workers, are likely to receive the vaccinations first. The Standing Vaccination Commission of the Robert Koch Institute together with the Ethics Council and the Leopoldina Science Academy have so far only given a recommendation on the exact selection. There will be no general compulsory vaccination.

2. The introduction of hundreds of millions of vaccine doses is a logistical nightmare

Should the EMA approve the vaccine from Pfizer and Biontech, it will take some time before any citizen in Germany and the EU who wants to can get vaccinated. And it will bring some unusual logistical challenges along the way.

The vaccine must be shipped and stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius. This temperature is colder than that required for storing most of the other vaccines in existence. This will not only be a challenge in Europe and North America. For many other countries this is likely to be a major obstacle, as there are no appropriate cooling systems.

3. The competition also expects results this year

Pfizer’s positive results should bode well for other vaccine front-runners like Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson, who are also keen to prove their vaccines are effective at preventing Covid-19.

Pfizer and Biontech have developed a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine that requires only the genetic code of the virus to develop an experimental vaccine.

Pfizer’s Monday result is the first to show the technology works in humans. Moderna also specializes in mRNA therapeutics and vaccines, and was the world’s first drug company to begin testing a Covid-19 vaccine on humans in March.

The first successful results should also confirm that the vaccine is targeting all the front runners who are after it. All of these vaccinations target the same part of the coronavirus: its spike protein.

4. The EU is negotiating the supply of vaccination doses

Biontech was supported by the federal government with around 375 million euros in vaccine development. At the same time it was assured that larger quantities of the vaccine would be made available to the population in Germany and Europe. The EU Commission’s vaccination initiative is negotiating the deliveries.

The pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Biontech expect to be able to deliver 50 million vaccine doses worldwide by the end of the year. Another 1.3 billion are to follow next year.

According to the plans of the Federal Ministry of Health, the costs for the vaccination doses will initially be borne by the federal government, and later by the health insurance companies.

5. We don’t yet know whether vaccinated people can still pass the coronavirus on

Questions still remain about this first vaccine as a single study cannot answer all vaccination concerns. Only through real use in millions of people will you find out exactly how protective the vaccinations are and whether there are extremely rare but serious side effects.

For example, the study did not regularly test volunteers to see if the vaccinations prevented asymptomatic infection. Volunteers were only tested for the virus if they reported symptoms.

This means that people who have been vaccinated could still be infectious and contagious. It is not yet known whether and how well the vaccine can prevent people from becoming asymptomatic carriers.

The initial results also don’t tell us whether the vaccine protects against both mild and severe illnesses, Maria Elena Bottazzi, an American vaccine expert at the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told

Pfizer’s study looked at whether the vaccine reduced symptomatic Covid-19 cases regardless of the severity of symptoms. Some experts want to see data that ultimately shows that the vaccine also reduces hospital admissions and death rates.

It will be some time before the study is complete and we will know exactly how well the vaccine actually works. While the initial analysis showed that the vaccine was more than 90 percent effective, that percentage could change as we get more data on study participants who contracted Covid-19.

6. Don’t throw away your mask yet

With a coronavirus vaccine alone, we will probably not be able to return to normal immediately. Even if some people get a safe and effective vaccine in the next year, that doesn’t mean people can forego wearing face mask and keeping their distance, researchers at note.

It will depend largely on how effective the vaccines are, although initial results with a vaccine greater than 90 percent effective sound promising.

Vaccines have different degrees of effectiveness. An ideal vaccination confers what vaccine developers call sterilizing immunity, which reliably protects people from infection. Many vaccines fail to meet this standard. These vaccinations can reduce the chances of developing symptoms of the disease, even if some people still get infected.

7. Developing an effective vaccine within a year is an enormous achievement

All in all, Pfizer’s success story on Monday is a significant breakthrough in the fight against this virus, which has resulted in more than 50 million confirmed infections and more than 1.25 million deaths worldwide to date.

Developing and testing an effective vaccine in less than a year is an unprecedented achievement in medicine.

This text was translated from English and edited by Cornelia Meyer. You can find the original version here.


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