Pfizer may beat Oxford in delivering COVID-19 vaccine before Christmas

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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COVID-19 Vaccine
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British government officials expect that a decision on whether the US-based drugmaker Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is efficient will be revealed before the findings are announced on the rival Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine.

According to reports, Britain claims that the vaccine that Pfizer is co-developing with Germany’s BioNTech SE may be ready for delivery before Christmas. Recently, Prof. Adrian Hill, Founder-Director of the University of Oxford’s Jenner Institute had expressed hope that emergency approval for its vaccine could be secured before Christmas.

Read More: Sanofi, GSK enter deal with COVAX to ensure COVID-19 vaccine for all

Albert Bourla, Chief Executive of Pfizer, had previously said the company could release data on whether the vaccine works or not, as early as this month.

This week, the US drugmaker said that if trials are successful, the company plans to apply for emergency authorization from US regulators for the vaccine candidate shortly after it has appropriate safety data in late November.

Will the vaccines be effective?

However, the hopes of ending the COVID-19 pandemic with a vaccine were dealt a blow when a senior British health chief warned the first approved vaccines may not always work. Kate Bingham, head of the UK’s Vaccine Taskforce, has already warned there is only a ‘slim’ chance scientists will have a vaccine before Christmas.

Now she has dampened hopes even further, warning that the first generation of vaccines, which are all still in human trials, are ‘likely to be imperfect’ in a commentary published in medical journal The Lancet.

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Kate Bingham
UK Vaccine Taskforce

“We should be prepared they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms, and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long. However, we do not know that we will ever have a vaccine at all. It is important to guard against complacency and over-optimism. The first generation of vaccines is likely to be imperfect, and we should be prepared that they might not prevent infection but rather reduce symptoms, and, even then, might not work for everyone or for long.”

Experts believe it is extremely unlikely that any approved vaccine for coronavirus will ever be fully proven to work well until it is rolled out. The World Health Organization (WHO) agrees that “no vaccine is 100 % effective.” For instance, the measles jab, which has been doled out for decades, works only 98 percent of the time.

But if a vaccine can stop the coronavirus from infecting a vast majority of people, and potentially decrease the severity of the infection, then it would be praised as a game-changer.

The goal of coronavirus vaccine trials, which involve tens of thousands of volunteers worldwide, is to see whether the SARS-CoV-2 infection is prevented by the vaccine. But they won’t reveal whether vaccinations stop the transmission chain or stop someone from getting seriously ill or dying.

Evaluating whether a vaccine potentially protects lives will take several years, which is why scientists have cut corners in order to produce one that at least decreases the chance of catching it.

Limitations in production capacity

The lack of production capacity for the billions of doses needed is another obstacle to vaccinating the population, Ms. Bingham warned.

Global experts believe that two doses, and likely annual booster shots, will be needed for most vaccines to function effectively.

“There will not be one successful vaccine, or one single country, that is able to supply the world. We urgently need international cooperation to pool risks and costs, address barriers to access, and scale up the manufacturing capacity to produce sufficient doses to protect everyone at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection globally,” Ms. Bingham said.

She confirmed “adults older than 50 years, health-care and social-care workers on the front line, and adults with underlying comorbidities” will be first in line.

A vaccine was considered key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic which has already killed 1.1 million and infected 44 million people worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 150 COVID-19 vaccines are presently in development, with around 44 candidates in clinical trials and 11 undergoing late-stage testing.