All about the promising new COVID-19 vaccine
In the midst of a pandemic that continues to ravage the planet, there's some good news: the pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and BioNTech have announced that they have a vaccine against COVID-19 that appears to be 90% effective. A very high percentage considering that the World Health Organization was willing to accept vaccines with an immunity rate of around 60% in order to stop the spread of the virus. But what does this vaccine look like? When will it be available? Will it defeat the coronavirus without exceptions and forever?
To begin with, it is important to highlight a detail: this vaccine has to be administered in two doses: the second a fortnight after the first. This complicates the goal of mass vaccination a little. But it doesn't seem to be a big problem either.
The need to keep this new vaccine at a very low temperature can be more problematic. It must be kept at a temperature between -70º and -80º, which could be a challenge for its distribution. In any case, Pfizer and BioNTech are looking for technical solutions to this issue. They claim that some of the material for the vaccine might be sent separately and the vaccine finished at its destination.
Pfizer and BioNTech based their conclusions about the success rate of the vaccine on a concrete sample of 94 people (although many thousands more have participated in the study). It's a small sample but one that could be considered scientifically valid, particularly in view of its high percentage of effectiveness. It's the 90% that has triggered euphoria in the world.
How long does this new vaccine protect against the coronavirus? Forever? There is no answer to this. It will have to be investigated. But if mass vaccination is carried out quickly, the rate of infection will be radically slowed down and the current wave of COVID-19 could be virtually eradicated.
There have already been calls for caution regarding this vaccine. To begin with, Pfizer and BioNTech announced it in a public statement without following the usual procedure. Normally, a scientific report is sent to academic journals and analyzed by experts. Some critics say that the announcement was aimed more at Wall Street than at the field of science.
There are several questions about the immunity offered by this new vaccine. The communiqué launched by Pfizer and BioNTech states that it protects against mild cases of COVID-19. And severe cases? This is another scientific question.
There are also questions about whether being vaccinated prevents the individual from becoming infected. That is, you may not develop symptoms but the coronavirus may still be there, in your body and in airways, and you may still be able to infect others, too. Science has to work on that question.
It is estimated that by early 2021 the first doses could be distributed. They will target the population most at risk (the elderly, people with life-threatening illnesses, and chronically ill).
The United States has a contract with Pfizer and BioNTech to receive 100 million vaccines as soon as they are ready. The European Union has a similar contract for 200 million doses. In addition, the United Kingdom, Canada and Japan have similar agreements.
There are more vaccines in the pipeline. In total, an estimated 200 experimental studies are run at the moment, and that at least 10 may be in a final phase.
The first beneficial effect of Pfizer and BioNTech's vaccine announcement was the rise of all the world's stock markets, starting with Wall Street. The end of the pandemic stimulates investors. A return to normality would revive sectors such as tourism and private consumption.
Be that as it may, health authorities have been quick to recommend that no one let their guard down. Wearing a mask is still necessary as well as distancing and contact tracing. The process of eradicating COVID-19, even with a vaccine, may take some time. According to some experts, it will take at least two or three years.
In any case, the hope of a vaccine to help fight COVID-19 is a more than reasonable idea. Never in the history of mankind has there been such a powerful common scientific effort, with so many human beings striving towards a single goal. And science is convinced that a vaccine, with greater or lesser effectiveness, is possible.