This past year, the world has dealt with many negative surprises. This past week, however, we all received some much-needed good news. Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, announced that their vaccine that they are studying had demonstrated over 90% efficacy against COVID-19.
The vaccine study had enrolled over 43,000 volunteers from around the world and is still ongoing but an interim analysis was conducted to test efficacy. With some additional safety data, Pfizer plans to submit the vaccine for emergency use approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration before the end of the year.
As infection rates are rising again all around the world, many countries are starting to impose shutdowns again. President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisor has even suggested the idea of a nationwide shutdown in the U.S. There have been over 10 million cases of coronavirus and over 240,000 deaths in the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic, and many more expected over the coming winter months.
Pfizer Chairman and CEO Dr. Albert Bourla said, “With today’s news, we are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”
The whole world has been eagerly anticipating a vaccine to end the many long months of quarantining, masking and social distancing. However, even with an effective vaccine, delivery and storage of the vaccine may be challenging. First, the government will need to determine where the vaccine company will send all the doses and the quantity of the doses, making sure to prioritize certain high risk populations first. At the same time, Pfizer or any other successful vaccine maker will need to have a plan for packaging and shipping.
For example, Pfizer’s vaccine needs to cool for many hours at freezing temperatures (colder than normal vaccines) and there is some question as to how they will be able to package the vaccine in glass vials that can withstand cold temperatures and how they will be able to transport and store the vials at such temperatures. This may delay the distribution process. That said, Pfizer expects to be able produce 50 million doses this year and 1.3 billion doses next year. We will also need many skilled medical workers to administer the vaccine to people, especially to Americans living in rural areas.
There are over 100 companies still developing and studying their own version of a COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer is just the first one to report this level of success, which means we are one big step closer to finding a solution to this global health problem.