Scientists across the world are working around the clock to create a vaccine for the deadly COVID-19 virus that has become the greatest public health emergencies of our time. Almost a year has passed since we have been living with COVID-19, and we can finally anticipate some good news. However, premature celebrations should be avoided and care should be taken whenever possible.
On November 18, 2020, the American pharma giant Pfizer and its German partner Biontech announced their vaccine candidate to be 95% effective, with efficacy only dropping by 1% in elderly. It was a 43,000 person study where each participant was injected with the vaccine or a placebo (a substance that has no effect, mostly salt and water which is used as a control) and about 170 people showed symptoms of COVID-19. 162 of these cases had received placebo while 8 had gotten the vaccine. 10 participants faced severe symptoms and only one of them was vaccinated which shows that if the vaccine is unable to prevent an infection, it can still protect against severe forms of COVID-19 hence reducing its mortality. In addition, no serious side effects of the vaccine were seen.
So what next? Currently, Pfizer and Biotech are working to submit an application for approval to FDA (Food and Development Authority) in the US for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) which means allowing for usage of unapproved medical products during a public health crisis. FDA is the main body which is going to approve its use for the public after analyzing the vaccine’s safety, weighing its benefits and if there are any other alternatives in preventing the disease. Usually the first ones to receive the vaccine are going to be high-risk populations such as the old, young children, front-line healthcare workers etc.
Another contender in this race is developed by Moderna, a US biotech company. This vaccine is said to have an efficacy of 94.5%. Moderna used a unique technology, mRNA to develop these vaccines. What happens is that unlike traditional vaccines where an inactive or a less severe bacteria/virus is injected which activates the immune response, in this a messenger RNA molecule is inserted which tells the cell what to build and prepare the immune system to fight the real thing. These vaccines are cheaper and safer as they do not produce any infectious elements. In this trial, 11 people who received placebo underwent severe COVID-19 whereas none of the participants who got the vaccine showed any symptoms.
The Head of U.S national Institute of Allergy and Infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci says that “the data speaks for itself” and the provision of one or both vaccines should start by the end of this year to those at the highest risk of this virus.
After Pfirzer and Moderna, our latest contender is the Oxford vaccine. The best thing about this vaccine (if approved) is far wider accessibility as it can make about three billion doses next year and reach every corner of the world compared to its counterparts. This trial showed 70% protection against the virus but scientists are hopeful this figure can reach upto 90% by adjusting the dose. In a study of more than 20,000 volunteers, about 30 people who got two doses of vaccine contracted the virus meanwhile the number of COVID-19 cases in the placebo group was 101. The trial’s lead investigator was pleased to see the results and is anticipating that we will have a vaccine for the world soon.