Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, have announced that their COVID-19 vaccine appears to be more than 90 percent effective against the disease. Early data from their 44,000-person trial analyzed the first 94 cases of symptomatic COVID-19 among the participants who received either the two-dose vaccine or a saline placebo (Pfizer.com/news, November 9, 2020). No significant side effects or safety problems were reported.
Pfizer plans to ask for emergency authorization from the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before the end of November, when they expect the trial to reach its endpoint of 164 cases and to meet the FDA’s requirement of at least two months of monitoring for half of the study’s subjects. Pfizer already has been given permission to include children at least 12 years old in their trials.
Safety of the New Vaccines
The Pfizer vaccine is expected to be safer than previous vaccines because it does not use viruses. Instead, it uses messenger RNA (mRNA), which stimulates your immune system to recognize and attack invading viruses. These new vaccines contain fragments of mRNA made in the lab that teach your immune system to recognize the virus that causes COVID-19. If viruses cannot get into your cells quickly, they disintegrate and cannot multiply. The virus that causes COVID-19 uses a special key called M-spike protein to enter human cells. The vaccine only needs to contain the mRNA of the M-spike protein, not of the whole virus. If your immune system can destroy the M-spike protein, the virus cannot enter human cells and you do not become infected.
Earlier mRNA-based vaccines failed to work because they were destroyed by your own immune system, but the scientists solved that problem by coating the mRNA with a special nanoparticle fat that protects the mRNA and allows it to reach your cells. Moderna’s vaccine uses a similar technology, and Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and several other organizations also have vaccines in Phase 3 trials.
It looks like we may soon have safe and effective vaccines that can help the world control this COVID-19 pandemic. It is possible that they will be approved by January 2021 and will first be made available to healthcare workers and people at high risk for complications. Widespread distribution should be underway by May 2021.
Meanwhile, continue to do what you can to help limit spread of the disease and to protect yourself, particularly if you are at risk for complications of COVID-19:
• Wear a face mask any time you expect to be around people who are not members of your household
• Stay at least six feet away from other people
• Avoid anyone with respiratory symptoms
• Use 20-second soap hand washes frequently throughout the day
• Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth, the primary sources of viral entry into your body
• If you feel sick, stay home
• If you decide to travel, go by car if possible. Personally, I am avoiding group travel such as trains, planes, buses and ships.
• Spend lots of time outdoors. Transmission of the virus occurs most often in closed spaces, particularly crowded places or rooms with poor air circulation.
Note: I discussed this and many other topics during the radio show this week on WRTA in Altoona PA. You can listen here: https://soundcloud.com/talkradio985/dr-gabe-mirkin-november-2020-wrtas-the-11th-hour-with-doug-herendeen