Vaccine Success Brings Jubilation


The world just got the greatest news possible. A vaccine developed by Pfizer has shown greater than 90% effectiveness in clinical trials.

The stock market literally went through the roof with this good news. After a nearly 2,000 point rise early in the day, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day up 835 points. Nearly everyone greeted this news with celebration as it heralded the coming of a post-pandemic return to something approaching normal. Only New York Governor Andrew Cuomo could find something negative to say when he bemoaned this development came “too soon” since the distribution of the new vaccine would happen under the Trump administration rather than Democrat Joe Biden.

The Pfizer vaccine, developed with partner BioNTech SE of Germany, has been in Phase III trials using 44,000 test subjects. Half received the new vaccine and half received a placebo. Pfizer announced 94 subjects contracted the virus. The more than 90% efficacy rate suggests that most, if not all, of the 94 sick subjects had received the placebo. Pfizer expects to apply for Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) by the end of this month once it completes a two-month safety analysis.

This vaccine is based on a new technology using messenger RNA (mRNA) to elicit an immune response to the virus. This same technology is being used by Moderna in association with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID). Moderna is also on track for an interim efficacy analysis and a two-month safety follow-up for at least half the people in its clinical trial this month.

The Wall Street Journal has produced the following graphic to explain how the vaccine works:

When will the vaccine be ready for authorization?

It is expected that Pfizer will apply for EUA at the end of this month. The FDA then must authorize use of the vaccine based on their consideration of its safety. No serious safety issues have been seen thus far. It is unclear when the FDA will grant EUA.

When will people start getting vaccinated?

If the FDA grants authorization, vaccination shots could begin before the end of the year. Pfizer expects to have 50 million doses available by then which is enough to vaccinate 25 million patients since two injections are necessary. Pfizer expects to have 1.3 billion doses produced in 2021.

What other vaccines are in development?

I mentioned the Moderna vaccine above. Others include the AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, and Novavax vaccines, which are based on different technologies. All are in Phase III trials and could have results within the next few months. (see Vaccine Hope on the Way)

What don’t we know about the vaccine?

We don’t know its long-term effectiveness. We also don’t know whether it is effective in all age groups and across all various racial and ethnic groups.

It is hard to find something to criticize in this great announcement from Pfizer. I guess you have to be from New York.

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