On November 9, 2020, the company Pfizer announced that the results of their interim analysis done with more than 43,500 volunteers for their Covid-19 vaccine to be 90 percent effective. The results showed that among those who got two doses of the vaccine, only 10 percent were infected, showing that the vaccine significantly reduced the rate of infection.
This news comes in as the whole world awaits results from the companies in the process of the final phase of testing for the Covid-19 vaccines around the globe. This vaccine made by Pfizer along with their German partner, BioNTech showed 90 percent effectiveness at seven days after the second dose. The US Food and Drug Administration previously had said that they were expecting at least 50 percent efficacy from any coronavirus vaccine.
Pfizer has said that they plan to apply for emergency approval to use the vaccine by the end of this month and the final safety and efficacy data are expected by the third week of this month.
These new developments for the race for a vaccine has attained the attention of world leaders around the globe.
The US president-elect Joe Biden said it was “excellent news. It is also important to understand that the end of the battle against Covid-19 is still months away.”
The UK Prime Minister’s official spokesman said the results were “promising” and that “the NHS stands ready to begin a vaccination programme for those most at risk once a Covid-19 vaccine is available”.
Prof Peter Horby, from the University of Oxford said, “this news made me smile from ear to ear. It is a relief… 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.”
As stated by Professor Peter Horby, there is still a long way to go before these vaccines can be used. One of the biggest challenges identified to this date is the fact the vaccine needs to be stored in ultra-cold temperatures. This eliminates any possibilities of the vaccine being available in the pharmacies or healthcare facilities in a near future.
The vaccine is designed in a way that it uses mRNA to activate the immune system against the virus, which needs to be kept at minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below. Even the most prestigious hospitals in the USA such as the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota reported that they do not have those facilities.
Dr Gregory Poland, a virologist and vaccine researcher with the Mayo Clinic said that, “We’re talking about a vaccine that needs storage at minus 70 or 80. That’s a tremendous logistical issue not only in the U.S. but outside the Western world,”
Pfizer spokeswoman Kim Bencker said the company was working closely with the U.S. government and state officials on plans to transport the vaccine on dry ice via land, air and sea from its distribution centers in the United States, Germany and Belgium around the globe.
He also stated that the vaccines can be kept in an ultra-low temperature freezer for up to six months, or for five days at 2-8 degrees C – a type of refrigeration commonly available at hospitals.
Hence, ultimately the decision on how to potentially deliver the vaccinations while ensuring it’s viability without extra equipments and cold storage facilities would fall on the doctors and healthcare providers. This would be an exhaustive and a very ethically challenging task as the vaccine calls for high-end storage facilities which would not be available in rural areas.
According to Pfizer and BioNTech, the shots will spoil in around five days at normal refrigeration temperatures of slightly above freezing and they are analyzing if they can extend that for two weeks. Their primary focus is to deliver the medications to healthcare workers and those who are at higher risk of a fatal outcome from Covid-19.
As these new developments come in, numerous healthcare facilities are in communication with the state and companies that supply ultra-cold freezers. In the meantime, careful plans need to be put in place to ensure equity in vaccine distribution and finding ways to tackle the huge logistical challenges faced.