Vaccine breakthrough: Pfizer's Covid-19 drug '90% effective'

9 November 2020, 12:23 | Updated: 9 November 2020, 15:44

Pfizer has announced a new vaccine which is estimated to be 90% effective
Pfizer has announced a new vaccine which is estimated to be 90% effective. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

A breakthrough has been made in the the first coronavirus vaccine, after initial studies showed it can prevent 90% of people contracting the virus.

The developers, Pfizer and BioNTech, plan to apply for emergency approval so the drug can start to be used by the end of the month after no safety issues were raised.

It has been tested on 43,500 people in the US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey.

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Pfizer hope to supply 50 million doses by the end of 2020 and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021.

Downing Street welcomed the results as "promising" and said the UK will have procured 10 million doses by the end of the year to be given out if it is approved.

The UK has secured 40 million doses in total of the vaccine.

The vaccine would include two doses given three weeks apart, and 90% of individuals are then protected seven days after the second dose.

England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the findings demonstrated "the power of science against Covid", adding: "We must see the final safety and efficacy data, but it is very encouraging.

"It is essential we continue to suppress Covid, but it is a reason for optimism for 2021."

Dr. Albert Bourla, Pfizer Chairman and CEO, said: “Today is a great day for science and humanity. The first set of results from our Phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent COVID-19.

“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.

"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. We look forward to sharing additional efficacy and safety data generated from thousands of participants in the coming weeks.

“I want to thank the thousands of people who volunteered to participate in the clinical trial, our academic collaborators and investigators at the study sites, and our colleagues and collaborators around the world who are dedicating their time to this crucial endeavour,” added Bourla.

“We could not have come this far without the tremendous commitment of everyone involved.”

This is the first of around a dozen vaccine trials to bring results, sparking hopes the breakthrough could be the thing that is needed to finally bring the virus under control.

Pfizer and BioNTech plan to apply to the US Food and Drug Administration - the US medicines regulator - by the end of the month for emergency approval to use the vaccine.

About 12 Covid-19 vaccines around the world are currently in the final stages of testing, but Pfizer's is the first to report any results.

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, said the news "bodes well for Covid-19 vaccines in general".

He added: "Of course we need to see more detail and await the final results, and there is a long long way to go before vaccines will start to make a real difference, but this feels to me like a watershed moment."

Ian Jones, professor of virology at the University of Reading, said the Pfizer trial data shows "really impressive protection and no reported adverse events".

He said: "Of all the current vaccines currently in development, the BioNtech product always looked like the most bang-per-buck as it is entirely focused on the part of the virus that binds to the human cell, the receptor binding domain.

"The questions around its use were about the ability to manufacture at scale and the possible toxicity associated with a directly injected RNA product.

"The trial data show excellent results in both of those areas, really impressive protection and no reported adverse events."

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health, University of Southampton, added: "This cautiously sounds like an excellent result from the phase three trials, but we should remain a little cautious.

"If the final results show an effectiveness of anywhere near 90% with response in elderly and ethnic minority populations, that is an excellent result for a first generation vaccine."

Professor Azra Ghani, chair of infectious disease epidemiology at Imperial College London, said that long-term efficacy data would come over coming weeks and months.

Prof Ghani said: "These new results represent the first demonstration of substantial efficacy of a vaccine candidate against Covid-19 disease, which is very welcome news.

"The efficacy estimate is based on seven days of follow-up of participants following the second dose; further data in the coming weeks and months will provide a better picture of longer-term vaccine efficacy."

People will need two doses of the jab, meaning not enough shots have been secured for the entire UK population.

The data from the full trial will be submitted for scientific peer-review publication.

The figures presented so far are based on the first 94 volunteers to develop Covid-19.

The overall effectiveness of the vaccine may change when the full results are released.

The vaccine has been shown to produce both an antibody and T-cell response in the body to fight coronavirus.

Prof Ugur Sahin, one of the founders of BioNTech, described the results as a "milestone".