Ben Hayward November 9th
2020

In what is being hailed as a major breakthrough, the first effective Covid-19 vaccine which can prevent more than 90% of people from contracting the virus could gain emergency approval by the end of November. 

Developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, the vaccine has so far been tested on 43,500 people in six countries, with no safety concerns raised.

It uses an experimental approach that involves injecting part of the virus's genetic code in order to ‘train’ the immune system, with previous trials showing the development of both antibodies and T-cells in subjects. 

The vaccine will require two doses, three weeks apart, with the trials in US, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa and Turkey showing 90% protection is achieved seven days after the second dose has been administered.

Pfizer believes it will be in a position to supply 50 million doses by the end of this year, and around 1.3 billion by the end of 2021, of these the UK should get 10 million doses by the end of the year, with a further 30 million doses on order. 

However, there are certain logistical challenges to be overcome as the vaccine has to be kept in ultra-cold storage below minus 80°C.

As a result, hospital and care home staff and those at highest risk from Covid-19 will be prioritised.

The chairman of Pfizer, Dr Albert Bourla, said: "We are a significant step closer to providing people around the world with a much-needed breakthrough to help bring an end to this global health crisis.”

Pfizer and BioNTech say they will have enough safety data by the third week of November to take their vaccine to regulators. Until then it is not possible for countries to begin their vaccination campaigns.

The announcement has been welcomed as a significant development, with many in the scientific community commenting on the news. 

Professor Peter Horby, from the University of Oxford, said: “This news made me smile from ear to ear. It is a relief... 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."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s World at One. Professor Sir John Bell, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), said we should hopefully start returning to normal early next year. 

“I’m probably the first guy to say that but I will say that with some confidence,” said Sir John. “I am really delighted with this result – it shows that you can make a vaccine against this little critter. 

“90% 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.”

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said the results were ‘promising’ and that ‘the NHS stands ready to begin a vaccination programme for those most at risk once a Covid-19 vaccine is available’.

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