So we are finally here, on the precipice of a possible vaccine for COVID-19. It has been a long 2020 and dealing with COVID has made it an extremely stressful year. At the time you read this article, the US is increasing in the number of COVID cases daily and hitting a high for most cases since we started understanding how the disease spreads. It seems that most people want a vaccine but many are questioning the safety and efficacy of a vaccine that is developed so quickly.
For those of us belonging to communities of color, we are especially cautious of accepting any treatment from the government because of not wanting to be taken advantage of like several instances in American history. Besides, Black women have been dying at an alarming rate during birth and not enough has been done to remedy that. And it is things like this that leave lingering questions in so many people's minds as to whether this vaccine is a safe option or not.
Recently, it was announced that Pfizer in conjunction with BioNTech has suggested that they have a vaccine that could be more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19.
The announcement came after the results from Phase III of a German trial and was reported to be safe with no serious concerns. The trial included 44,000 subjects, spanning six countries, half got a placebo and the other half got a two-regimen of the new vaccine. Out of all the test subjects, only 94 of them contracted COVID-19 but it is unclear how many of them were given the placebo.
What is different about this new vaccine for COVID-19?
The vaccine has a new technology called mRNA that is a gene-based technology that has never been used before. Normally vaccines are made from dead or weakened strains of an infectious virus. This new technology was developed using the genes of the virus that causes COVID-19, and were analyzed to find the code to the protein that enables it to infect people. The code is then copied into mRNA fragments, which give instruction on how to make proteins, and is then put into a special molecule and injected into a patient. Once inside the body, the proteins replicate and trigger the body to make antibodies against the virus.
That is the very science version of how this vaccine will work and how it compares to other vaccines. This type of vaccine has been in varying stages of development for the flu but has not been approved for use by any regulatory bodies.
Pfizer will continue the trial until it has reached an efficacy rate that the FDA has agreed upon that is enough to tell if the vaccine works or not. They will also continue to push for Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA in the coming weeks.
So, what is next for the Pfizer vaccine?
Well, a few things. The FDA still needs to approve the vaccine before it can be distributed. Pfizer would like to start administering the vaccine with Emergency Use Authorization by the end of November. Distribution of the vaccine is an obstacle in and of itself:
- The mRNA vaccines can be faster in production than traditional vaccines, however the administration and distribution are complicated because the two doses have to be administered 21 days apart.
- There are some questions as to whether patients would comply and get both doses.
- Also, there may be issues around storage for the vaccine because it needs to be kept at very low temperatures in a special freezer.
It is not yet clear how often people will need to be vaccinated for COVID-19 because studies are still being done on how long the antibodies last at a level to fight off the disease. This could be a once a year vaccine like the flu but the public will have to wait and see.
However, it has been projected that if approved, the vaccince will be generally availabe by 2021 and "free" of charge to Americans.
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