Pfizer's Covid vaccine means 'life will return to normal by spring', says Govt adviser

PFIZER'S coronavirus vaccine means that "life will return to normal by spring", a Government scientist has today claimed.

Sir John Bell, professor of medicine at Oxford University, said that other vaccines were now likely to become available in the near future.

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The immunologist, who is also a member of the Government's vaccine taskforce, was after Pfizer published interim findings which found their jab to be 90 per cent effective.

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "I am really delighted with this result – it shows that you can make a vaccine against this little critter.

"Ninety percent is an amazing level of efficacy.

"It rolls the pitch for other vaccines because I can't see any reason now why we shouldn't have a handful of good vaccines."

Prof Chris Whitty, England's Chief Medical Officer, welcomed the news.

He tweeted: "Preliminary news that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is effective demonstrates the power of science against Covid.

"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."

Meanwhile, another leading expert, warned the first jab is unlikely to be a "complete game changer".

David Nabarro, from Imperial College London, said: "Everybody who's hearing and watching this will be saying, 'wow, does this mean that life can go back to normal in the near future?'

"Life will go back to a new normal, and we're not there yet."

The US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announced their major breakthrough today.

Dr Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and chief executive, said: "Today is a great day for science and humanity."

Who will be eligible for the first doses?

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has examined data on who suffers the worst outcomes from coronavirus and who is at highest risk of death.

Its interim guidance, which assumes the jab is safe and effective in all groups, says the order of priority should be:

  1. Older adults in a care home and care home workers
  2. All those aged 80 and over and health and social care workers, though they may move up the list
  3. Anyone 75 and over
  4. People aged 70 and over
  5. All those aged 65 and over
  6. High-risk adults under 65
  7. Moderate-risk adults under 65
  8. All those aged 60 and over
  9. All those 55 and over
  10. All those aged 50 and over
  11. The rest of the population, with priority yet to be determined.

Sir John said that the major breakthrough findings from the US left him "optimistic" for the Oxford vaccine results, which are due imminently.

He said: "Our data from our first interim analysis is also likely to be available in the very near future – by that I mean weeks, not months.

"I'm pretty optimistic that given this result we'll have a reasonably good chance at a good result as well.

"That would mean we'll have a couple of vaccines to play with, which will be great."

Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases and global health at the University of Oxford, said: "This news made me smile from ear to ear."

The FTSE 100 jumped more than 5.5 per cent on the news, adding £82 billion to the value of its shares in the market's best day since March.

What is the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine?

The Pfizer jab is known as a messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccine.

Conventional vaccines are produced using weakened forms of the virus, but mRNAs use only the virus's genetic code.

An mRNA vaccine is injected into the body where it enters cells and tells them to create antigens.

These antigens are recognised by the immune system and prepare it to fight coronavirus.

No actual virus is needed to create an mRNA vaccine.

This means the rate at which the vaccine can be produced is dramatically accelerated.

As a result, mRNA vaccines have been hailed as potentially offering a rapid solution to new outbreaks of infectious diseases.

They can also be modified reasonably quickly if, for example, a virus develops mutations and begins to change.

mRNA vaccines are also cheaper to produce than traditional vaccines. But both will play an important role in tackling Covid-19.

Are they safe?

All vaccines undergo rigorous testing and have oversight from experienced regulators.

Some believe mRNA vaccines are safer for the patient as they do not rely on any element of the virus being injected into the body.

mRNA vaccines have been tried and tested in the lab and on animals but the coronavirus vaccine will be the first one licensed for use in humans.

The human trials of mRNA vaccines – involving tens of thousands of people – have been going on since early 2020 to show whether it is safe and effective.

Pfizer will continue to collect safety and long-term outcomes data from participants for two years.

The vaccine has been tested on 43,500 people in six countries and no safety concerns have been raised.

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 Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The results are promising and while we are optimistic of a breakthrough, we must remember there are no guarantees."

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.

Dr Bourla said: "The first set of results from our Phase three Covid-19 vaccine trial provides the initial evidence of our vaccine's ability to prevent Covid-19."

He added: "We will continue to collect further data as the trial continues to enrol, for a final analysis planned when a total of 164 confirmed Covid-19 cases have accrued.

"I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to make this important achievement possible."

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

Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to produce up to 50 million vaccine doses globally in 2020 and up to 1.3 billion doses in 2021.

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".

Last week, NHS chief exec, Sir Simon Stevens, told MPs: "We're waiting to fire the starting gun."

Kate Bingham, chair of the UK vaccine taskforce, said patients could be receiving a safe and effective vaccine within weeks.

It could mean that Brits get immunised when the country comes out of lockdown, and just in time for Christmas.

Vaccine chiefs said the UK will have stockpiled 10 million doses by the end of the year, with four million doses of the Oxford jab ready in that time too.


Prof Peter Horby, from the Unviersity of Oxford, said the "watershed moment" made him "smile from ear to ear".

"It is a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and bodes well for Covid-19 vaccines in general.

"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.”

Prof Brendan Wren, from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: “A 90 per cent efficacy for a phase 3 trial is excellent for a new vaccine that could make a huge difference, but more confirmatory safety and efficacy studies are required.

It is a relief to see such positive results on this vaccine and bodes well for Covid-19 vaccines in general

"The RNA-based vaccine requires two doses and its true efficacy over a longer period of time remains to be evaluated.  These are encouraging results and it is a case of so far so good.”

Dr Michael Head, senior research fellow in global health, University of Southampton, said the results appear "excellent" but he urged caution.

"This cautiously sounds like an excellent result from the phase three trials, but we should remain a little cautious," he said.

"The provisional findings are made available in a press release and the study is ongoing.

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

"This has been seen before – the rapidly-produced Ebola vaccine generated very high levels of effectiveness and exceeded all expectations.

"Equally, billions of dollars and numerous clinical trials have struggled to produce any form of vaccination against HIV. Science can be unpredictable."

He added that if the vaccine is approved for use by regulators then there could be difficulties posed by logistics and distribution due to the temperature that the vaccine needs to be stored at.

"If this Pfizer vaccine candidate is licensed, there will be difficulties around logistics and distribution," Dr Head added.

"It has been reported that the vaccine requires storage at -70 degrees centigrade and that is not necessarily routinely available in most health centres even in the UK, let alone globally."

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