Early Monday, November 9th, Reuters announced that a vaccine for COVID-19 was being developed by Pfizer and that it had demonstrated extraordinary results with the conclusion of their Phase 3 trial. Their vaccine has proven to be effective over 90% of the time. Yet, creating a vaccine this effective has been a particularly hard experience, not just scientifically but emotionally for millions of people worldwide. Until the vaccine becomes widely available is it essential that we all must continue to wear masks to ensure the safety of ourselves and those around us.
As of July, two vaccines had reached phase 3 in the world, both of which were being developed in Brazil. The first of these vaccines was developed by Oxford University in collaboration with AstraZeneca labs. The technical name of this vaccine is ChAdOx1 nCoV-19. ChAdOx1 is a non-replicating common cold vaccine, which was the foundation for this vaccine. ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 was tested on 5000 volunteers at an undisclosed location in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo. Prior to this, the vaccine had already been tested on animals and smaller groups of people, showing promising results. This vaccine entered its final phase on July 27, and in less than a month, the Brazilian government began discussing the production of millions of doses with AstraZeneca. President Bolsanaro set aside $360 million for a licensing deal with AstraZeneca. These funds would have been able to cover up to 100 million doses of the vaccine if proven to be successful. However, at the beginning of the trial, the deal was to provide up to 30 million doses of the vaccine. It has also been said that if the vaccine works, then an additional 70 million vaccines will be produced by this company. The second major vaccine being developed in Brazil was created by China’s Sinovac Biotech. Sinovac Biotech worked in partnership with the Brazilian public health center, the Butantan Institute. The vaccine is called CoronaVac. Much like the Oxford vaccine, the Sinovac vaccine entered phase 3 of clinical trials relatively recently, on June 21. 9000 health care workers received the vaccine, and if the vaccine had proven to be effective, the Butantan institute had the right to produce 120 million doses.
Despite how renowned Brazil’s research institute is, its public healthcare system has suffered in recent years, experiencing budget cuts and also fighting against the spread of misinformation. These experiences were so detrimental that 2019 was the first time in 25 years where Brazil didn’t fulfill its vaccination goal for any of the shots it routinely administers. Money alone is not enough; experts believe that this process could take up to 10 years due to the difficulty of transferring technology and the underinvestment of the facilities. If Brazil’s institutions are unable to meet their goals, not only would that mark yet another failure in President Bolsonaro’s efforts to combat the virus, but it would also cause Brazil vulnerable and in desperate need of medical supplies.
Current Stance of Vaccine
While the vaccines are being developed in Brazil, early November 9th Pfizer announced that current data from its COVID-19 vaccine demonstrates the vaccine is more than 90% effective. The Pfizer team determined this statistic by analyzing the first 94 confirmed cases among their 43,000 volunteers who either received the trial vaccine or a placebo. Their analysis showed that fewer than 10% of infections were in participants who had been administered the vaccine, meaning over 90% of the positive cases were from those who had received the placebo.
While this is exciting news, it’s important to realize this does not mean that the vaccine is going to arrive in a matter of days; there is still much more testing left. On Sunday, November 8th, approximately 39,000 volunteers of the 43,000 volunteers who had participated in Phase 3 of trials received the vaccine. Their end goal is to reach 164 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection. To achieve this goal, Pfizer has developed technology in which messenger RNA, mRNA, essentially tricks cells into producing a protein that resembles the virus. In theory, the immune system would learn to attack these placebos and would eventually respond the same way with the actual virus. Though it is unclear how long protection from the virus will sustain. The most likely case, of what’s to happen, is that the vaccine will be administered on a yearly basis.
Additionally, Pfizer believes that they are on track to create over 50 million doses by the end of this year and over 1 billion next year. They will be able to reach this extraordinary number as they have multiple manufacturing centers and have already signed production contracts with multiple governments.
The importance of this vaccine goes beyond medical advancements. It’s fair to say 2020 has not gone the way anyone has expected it to. Emotions have run high since March and this news could not have come at a better time, especially when the United States is reaching upwards of 100,000 new cases. The emotional aspect of the vaccine is equally as important as the medical advancement.
A highly effective vaccine is great news especially as we approach 8 months of quarantine. However, it is essential that we continue to listen to science these upcoming months. Until an effective vaccine is not only officially created, but also widely available, we have to continue to wear masks. Masks are currently the best way to combat the virus and until a vaccine is readily available this is the best way to protect ourselves and loved one from COVID-19.
Afifa Zahid, Youth Medical Journal 2020
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