The Latest on COVID-19 Vaccines

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Eight months into the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 251,715 Americans have died due to the novel coronavirus. Several pharmaceutical companies have been working to develop vaccines since the outset of the pandemic, and recently, two have announced that they are in the final stages of creating a viable vaccine. Learn more below.

Pfizer

On November 9, New York City-based pharmaceutical company Pfizer and German cancer-fighting biotechnology company BioNTech announced in a press release that their novel coronavirus vaccine was more than 90 percent effective. The vaccine is currently in Phase III trials, which are the final round of human testing. 

Pfizer and BioNTech determined their 90 percent effectiveness rate by dividing their 43,538 trial participants into two groups. The first group received the vaccine, and the other received a placebo. The companies then calculated their vaccine’s 90 percent effectiveness rate by testing participants for COVID-19 more than one week after trial participants received their second vaccine dose, which occurred three weeks after the first dose. Additionally, the vaccine was also observed to be effective for all age groups, with at most mild to moderate side effects.

In total, 94 participants tested positive during the Pfizer trials, though the companies did not specify the number of positive COVID-19 diagnoses in the placebo group or vaccine group. The study will continue until 164 total cases are detected, at which point new calculations of the vaccine’s effectivity rate could result in different numbers. 

The United States Food and Drug Administration advisory panel is on standby to publicly debate Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine data in early December. The companies have also started “rolling submissions” for the vaccine, which is also under evaluation with regulators in Europe, the U.K., and Canada. BioNTech’s CEO and co-founder said that even if regulators agree that Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine offers strong protection against the COVID-19 virus, an end to the pandemic is not around the corner and warned that we will have a “hard winter.”

Moderna

One week after the Pfizer and BioNTech announcement, on November 16, biotechnological company Moderna announced that it believes it has also developed a strongly effective COVID-19 vaccine. Moderna announced that its vaccine, called mRNA-1273, could reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection by 94.5 percent. In Moderna’s 30,000-patient study, there were 95 cases of COVID-19 infection among patients. However, five of these patients developed COVID-19 after receiving Moderna’s vaccine.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, a new approach to vaccines that uses genetic material to provoke an immune response. Moderna said that it will deliver its vaccine to U.S. regulators in the coming weeks and expects to have 20 million doses available in the country.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading COVID-19 expert, said that a vaccine with above 75 percent efficacy is satisfactory. As such, the Moderna and Pfizer results suggest that a vaccine could soon be viable for the public. Additionally, Fauci said that evidence has shown that Moderna’s vaccine seems to be effective with vulnerable groups susceptible to COVID-19, people of color, and the elderly.

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