By Lyla Amini, MA Migration and Diaspora Studies, Persian
Preliminary findings suggested that two vaccines are 90-94.5% effective at preventing Covid-19. Though developing a new vaccine takes on average 10 years from initial research to mass production, the pandemic expedited the process and vaccines have been produced in record time. The findings came just a year after the first documented case of the disease.
There are currently 13 vaccines in the third and final phase of testing. Pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Moderna recently released preliminary analyses of their efficacy trials. The two vaccines are proof of principle that a vaccine can be created for the SARS-CoV-2 genome. No vaccines were successfully developed to combat outbreaks of other coronavirus strains such as SARS or MERS, making this a groundbreaking achievement.
The rapid development of these Covid-19 vaccines were greatly aided by the fact that a new method of vaccine development was ready and waiting to be tested when the pandemic hit. Furthermore, high infection rates accelerated the pace of clinical trials. Governments are supplying an endless cash flow that eliminates any financial roadblocks in the process.
These vaccines are both based on an mRNA molecule that encodes the spike protein, which is how the Covid-19 virus fuses to and enters cells. Both vaccines essentially contain part of Covid-19’s genetic code. When administered, the body produces viral proteins that train the immune system to effectively identify and respond to the Covid-19 virus.
‘Though the preliminary findings are hopeful, they are not yet peer-reviewed nor licenced by regulatory bodies. If proven safe, it could still be several months or even years before a vaccine is widely available.’
Though the preliminary findings are hopeful, as of 22 November they are not yet peer-reviewed nor licenced by regulatory bodies. If proven safe, it could still be several months or even years before a vaccine is widely available.
A significant hurdle to overcome for this vaccine is the mass immunisation campaign required. Both vaccines must be stored at subzero temperatures, raising serious logistical questions around administering them. Furthermore, both vaccines require two doses per person and must be administered at two separate times. It still remains unknown how long immunity to Covid-19 lasts after receiving the vaccine.
Wealthy countries like the UK, US, and Canada are entering into their own deals with pharmaceutical companies, ordering and buying up millions of doses in advance. 78% of the 1 billion doses Moderna reports it has capacity to produce by the end of the year have already been sold off to countries such as the US, UK, Canada, Japan, and EU member countries.
Countries unable to do so are entering into a mechanism called COVAX Facility, a multilateral agreement created to support an equitable distribution of a vaccine. The agreement remains ineffective at confronting profit-driven pharmaceutical companies, patents, property rights, and technological information barriers that prevent these vaccine breakthroughs from truly being a ‘great day for science and humanity,’ as declared by Dr. Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO.
As soon as the preliminary testing data was released, stocks for both companies skyrocketed. Pfizer could make as much as $13 billion in profits next year from the sale of their coronavirus vaccine. Moderna, despite having received $2.48 billion from taxpayers, has announced it also intends to make profit from its vaccine sales.
Though news of effective vaccine trials adds a dash of optimism to the emotions of this pandemic experience, scientists are warning against premature relaxation of restrictions, as a vaccine does not offer the end-all silver bullet in making it through this global pandemic. Public health experts continue to advise that much of how the pandemic will play out in the coming months will be determined more by the adaptive behavior and decisions people make to abide by precautionary measures than by the prospects of a vaccine on the horizon.
Photo Caption: The possibility of a Covid-19 vaccine has sparked optimism but doesn’t provide a silver bullet (Credit: Creative Commons).