A University College Cork (UCC) senior lecturer has said that a major breakthrough announced in the search for a Covid-19 vaccine is “a first glimmer of hope that a vaccine can work in humans”.
Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which has a large manufacturing base in Cork, and its German partner BioNTech announced today that their vaccine was 90% effective in preventing Covid-19 infections in ongoing Phase 3 clinical trials.
In what was described as “a great day for science and humanity” by Pfizer chairman and chief executive Dr Albert Bourla, the company said interim results showed its vaccine could prevent people developing Covid-19.
The results are based on the first interim analysis of Phase 3 of the study, and evaluated 94 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in trial participants.
The study enrolled 43,538 participants, with 42% having diverse backgrounds, and no serious safety concerns have been observed, the companies report.
The case split between vaccinated individuals and those who received the placebo indicates a vaccine efficacy rate above 90%, at seven days after the second dose.
Speaking to The Echo, senior lecturer at the School of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at UCC, Dr Anne Moore, said that although it is “positive news” and is a “really good step toward developing vaccines that that hopefully will protect in the community overall”, that this was a small interim analysis and there are “a lot more steps to take to know which vaccine is best”.
“This was a small interim analysis and hopefully that will translate to larger populations but we just don’t know at this stage. But it is a first glimmer of hope that a vaccine can work in humans,” she said.
She said that a whole host of factors are yet to be understood, including how long this vaccine and other vaccines that are also in Phase 3 clinical trials will protect for and which out of those undergoing trial will be the best.
“Will a person be protected for only three months or a year or multiple years and across different populations and different ethnicities as well, and the elderly, one vaccine might be better than the other,” she explained.
However, Dr Moore said that she believes that Pfizer will get the Emergency Use Authorisation (EUA) required in order to distribute and sell the vaccine and that it will be accessible by the end of this year following the collection of more safety and additional efficacy data.
“There isn't any red flag and they’ve met the milestones the FDA put down to get that EUA so I think it will be authorised,” she said.
She said there are 50 million doses of the vaccine ready to be distributed in 2020 and a further 1.3 billion doses for next year, provided there are no major safety signals over the next few weeks in the volunteers that have taken the vaccine.
Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan said that the news is “hopeful” but that it was “certainly not a time for celebration”.
Dr Holohan advised people to continue to adhere to the public health measures that the Department has “continually recommended and underscored the importance of”' and that people follow public health advice “in respect of self-isolation and restriction of movements respectively”.
National Virus Reference Laboratory (NVRL) director Cillian De Gascun said that it is a very good start from a vaccination perspective but said that the duration of protection is “something we don’t yet know”.
He said that it is not going to be the global solution but is a “very positive first step”.