A turning point in the fight against Covid-19
Ten days ago we had no Covid-19 vaccines. Now we have two, the latest from Moderna (after Pfizer / BioNTech). Sure, the first claim may be a bit of an exaggeration: There were 12 vaccines in late-stage trials, some with more than one chance of success, and what we were witnessing is just that. The two that have cleared the first hurdle, an adequate success rate in an interim analysis of the first results, are messenger RNA or mRNA vaccines, which use a genetic messenger code to instruct the body’s own cells to produce a protein that It is found in the shell of the SARS-CoV 2 virus that causes Covid-19, thus causing an immune reaction that results in protection against the virus.
There is a chance that another candidate, perhaps the one being developed by Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca / Oxford, could join those of Pfizer and Moderna before the end of the year (ending 2020 with three successful vaccines would be something). And chances are high that both will be approved for use and available, at least for those whose needs are the highest, before the end of the year. The broader commercial availability will follow next year, perhaps in early spring.
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Pfizer will make 50 million doses available this year (once approved) and Moderna, 20 million. Both are two-dose vaccines, which means that 25 million and 10 million people can be vaccinated, respectively. Next year, Pfizer plans to increase production to 1.3 billion units and Moderna to between 500 million and 1 billion. That should be enough to vaccinate around 15% of the world’s population, which is a start. The other successful vaccines will add to the number. It is quite possible that if two more vaccines are successful, about 40% of the world’s population could receive a vaccine next year. But that’s on paper, because supply won’t just be a function of availability, it will be driven by pre-existing agreements between countries and vaccine manufacturers. The United States, for example, has agreements with both Pfizer and Moderna. The UK has an agreement with Pfizer and five other vaccine manufacturers, totaling 350 million doses. Its population is 66 million, so even if some vaccines involve multiple doses, its population is covered. The country was struggling to reach an agreement with Moderna before the company announced interim analysis of the preliminary results of its phase 3 clinical trials. And the EU has agreements with both Moderna and Pfizer / BioNTech.
Pharmaceutical testing company Airfinity said in September that rich countries accounted for at least 50% of the 5.3 billion doses for which deals had been struck at the time. That number is likely to increase. In fact, the Pfizer and Moderna announcements are likely to result in some frenzied deals, and they should. A vaccine is the best investment a country can make right now. The origins of the current global economic crisis are not really economic, several experts have said (correctly) that a vaccine is the best stimulus / cure for an economy in crisis.
Now comes the difficult part of managing the procurement, logistics and administration of the vaccine, and there, too, Moderna had good news; Your vaccine lasts longer in the refrigerator than previously believed (it still needs to be frozen), and it even lasts 12 hours at room temperature.
Also read: Moderna says its Covid-19 vaccine is almost 95% effective
But what about the science behind the results announced by Moderna on Monday and Pfizer / BioNTech last week? Both involved waiting for a certain number of test subjects (some received the vaccine and others a placebo) to become infected, and then seeing who received what. In the case of Pfizer, based on 94 people who were infected, and in the case of Moderna, based on 95, the vaccines were found to be more than 90% and 94.5% effective. While there are safety data that need to be reviewed and the studies themselves (both clinical trials cover tens of thousands of subjects) will have to run their course, these results are unlikely to change.
I think this is a turning point in the fight against the virus: it reduces, by a significant amount, the uncertainty surrounding a vaccine and offers a tentative timeline of when it might be commercially available.
Government and public health responses may have failed to Covid-19, but the pace and progress of the scientific response to the pandemic has been revolutionary and unprecedented. It is, like many other things that have happened before, another triumph of human ingenuity.