Pharmaceutical company Pfizer announced encouraging early data on Nov. 9 for its coronavirus vaccine trials. Analysis of the Pfizer vaccine, which was developed in conjunction with German company BioNTech, found it was more than 90% effective in preventing the disease among trial volunteers, without serious safety concerns for those who took it.
On Nov. 18, though, Pfizer had even better news. It said the vaccine was actually 95% effective and that it would be asking the federal government for emergency authorization “within days.”
Should those numbers hold up, according to the New York Times report, that would place it on par with widely-utilized vaccines like those used to fight measles—and would clearly be a major step forward in combatting the pandemic that has killed more than 1.25 million people around the world since its emergence in early 2020. It would also, by far, be the quickest vaccine ever developed. On Nov. 16, Moderna also said its own vaccine was 94.5% effective.
“This is a historical moment,” Kathrin Jansen, a senior vice president and the head of vaccine research and development at Pfizer, noted. “This was a devastating situation, a pandemic, and we have embarked on a path and a goal that nobody ever has achieved—to come up with a vaccine within a year.”
“Today is a great day for science and humanity,” Albert Bourla, Pfizer’s chairman and chief executive, said in a statement, via NBC News. “We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development program at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity, and economies struggling to reopen.”
The Times story pointed out that the success rates were reported by Pfizer itself and not in a peer-reviewed medical journal. At least one researcher interviewed in the article warned that the original 90% rate might drop as more data comes in, and longer-term studies will be needed to better understand the coronavirus vaccine’s efficacy.
Other researchers interviewed for the article, however, noted that a 90% success rate would make the coronavirus vaccine more effective than annual vaccines developed to fight influenza.
Pfizer is now seeking an emergency authorization of the two-dose coronavirus vaccine from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, once it has collected the recommended two months of safety data. Pfizer can ramp up production to provide vaccines for 15-20 million people by the end of 2020. Pfizer also said the vaccine would be free to Americans.
While President-elect Joe Biden was encouraged by Pfizer’s announcement, he also warned that “the end of the battle against COVID-19 is still months away.”
“It will be many more months before there is widespread vaccination in this country,” Biden said in a statement. “Today’s news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing, and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year.”
President Donald Trump also lauded the news in an all-capitals tweet the morning of the announcement, touting its success rate as well as correlating gains in the stock market. As Business Insider noted, “Global stocks have hit record highs after Biden’s win, and U.S. stock futures then soared Monday morning after Pfizer’s announcement.” Meanwhile, Vice President Mike Pence tried to take credit for the good news, but Pfizer made it clear that it did not accept any money from the government to fund the research and development of the vaccine.
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