The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the United States since March, reaching a toll of 10 million diagnosed cases and over 240,000 deaths this November. However, this week brought the potential for hope, as pharmaceutical company Pfizer reported that their vaccine was 90 percent successful.
Pfizer, in partnership with German company BioNTech, conducted a blind experiment with 44,000 participants. The participants were given either the vaccine or a saltwater placebo, and to this point only 94 of those participants given the vaccine have been infected with COVID-19.
This would make Pfizer solution one of the only vaccines showing potential for emergency authorization. The Food and Drug Administration has stated companies who want to send their vaccines for such authorization must prove a 50 percent effective rate. Comparatively, the annual influenza vaccine is usually 40-60 percent effective, showing that Pfizer’s vaccine could possibly be incredibly preventive.
The vaccine would first be made available to vulnerable populations, such as healthcare workers or elderly populations before the general public. But the vaccine cannot begin distribution until an outside advisory committee has had time to ensure the vaccine’s safety for the public. The current participants will be monitored for safety concerns for the next two years and the Center for Disease Control (CDC) will continue to monitor any emergency distributions to ensure there are no rarer safety concerns that emerge.
Current trials were open to people 18 and older, so Pfizer and BioNTech will soon be able to provide information on if those more at risk and above the age of 65 will be protected by the vaccine. In September, the testing age was reduced to 16, and will soon begin testing participants 12 years old and younger.
When the success rate of Pfizer’s vaccine was released on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence was quick to give “thanks to the public-private partnerships” created by President Trump under Operation Warp Speed, an initiative started by the Trump Administration to financially support any upcoming COVID-19 vaccines. Kathrin Jansen, vice president at Pfizer stated, “We were never part of Warp Speed, we have never taken any money from the US government, or from anyone.” It was later clarified by a Pfizer spokeswoman that Pfizer was a part of Operation Warp Speed as a potential supplier yet would not receive the $1.95 billion promised by the Trump Administration until they have begun the distribution of the vaccines.
Even though this vaccine, and potentially others, are coming close to authorization, many public health officials have stated vaccines won’t be widely available until next year, provided there are no additional changes in the coming month. In the meantime, President-Elect Joe Biden has begun a transitional COVID-19 Advisory Board, composed of doctors and other healthcare officials, to continue research into COVID-19 prevention. While many Americans felt relief hearing the potential for a vaccine, Biden emphasized the need to continue wearing masks, stating, “a mask remains the most potent weapon against the virus.”