On November 9, news broke that pharmaceutical company Pfizer had made huge headway with their coronavirus vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine has been cited by government ministers as our main way out of the coronavirus pandemic and our chance to return to a more normal way of living, free of national lockdowns.
Following the news this week that the Pfizer vaccine could be ready for distribution sooner than first thought, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said that the NHS was ready to start offering the new vaccine “as fast as safely possible” to people in the UK.
“We still appeal this morning for people’s patience,” he told BBC Breakfast today, Tuesday 10 November. “Firstly to follow existing rules, because this is still a deadly disease and this is not over yet.
“Even once we start to roll it out, we still need to look after ourselves, look after our community by following the rules and being careful to stop the spread of transmission.”
Mr Hancock followed up on Twitter, confirming Professor Chris Witty’s comments that the vaccine was “a reason for optimism in 2021”.
Although this means that lockdowns – the second of which England entered on November 5 – are not behind us just yet and circuit breaker lockdowns, along with tighter social distancing measures could be enforced in the New Year, it’s a hugely promising step forward in beating the virus. Especially as many looking at whether lockdown 2 is even working in England, as there has recently been discussions over the possibility of a January lockdown after Christmas.
So where did the vaccine come from? Is it actually effective in preventing people from catching coronavirus? And importantly, who would receive the vaccine first?
These are all questions that people are asking following the news, as unlike the vaccines currently being produced by Oxford University (where volunteers have taken part in trials), this one was vaguely unheard of until recently.
Who developed the Pfizer Covid vaccine and in which country?
The Pfizer vaccine has been developed by an American corporation called Pfizer in New York and BioNTech, a German biotechnology company based in Mainz, Germany.
Pfizer is one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world and over the years has been responsible for many of the essential medicines used by millions of people around the world. One of their most famous inventions is the EpiPen, which is used to treat allergic reactions, while anxiety sufferers might be familiar with another of their medication – Xanax.
However, BioNTech are the originators of the vaccine. Founded by two German scientists, the company normally develop cancer immunotherapies but during the pandemic, they have turned their attention to Covid-19.
How effective is the Pfizer vaccine?
The Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine has been reported as 90% effective in the early trials, meaning that it prevented 9 out of 10 people from contracting the virus.
The trial involved three phases and 43,538 people from six different countries. Each received two doses of either the vaccine or the placebo, with 90% of people protected from the virus within less than a month of having their jabs.
Out of more than 40,000 people who took part in the study, only 94 contracted coronavirus and as no serious safety concerns were reported, the vaccine is expected to be fast-tracked to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use.
However, a study and substantial reports won’t be confirmed until 164 people have contracted the virus to get a better understanding of how the vaccine works.
Dr Albert Bourla, Pfizer chairman and chief executive, has said in a statement that the success of the vaccine is immensely promising for both science and humanity: “The first set of results from our phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trials provides the initial evidence of our vaccine’s ability to prevent Covid-19.”
“We are reaching this critical milestone in our vaccine development programme at a time when the world needs it most with infection rates setting new records, hospitals nearing over-capacity and economies struggling to reopen.”
Other scientists such as John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, who is also involved with the Oxford coronavirus vaccine told the BBC that the Pfizer scientists had shown “an amazing level of efficacy” and he was hopeful that normality could return by spring.
“I’m the first guy to say that,” He said, “But I will say it with some confidence.”
As coronavirus is worse than the flu, the hope is that a vaccine will prevent the double threat of flu and Covid-19 in the years to come.
Who would be a priority for the Covid-19 vaccine in the UK?
Age is the biggest risk factor for Covid 19, so it’s likely that older people, those in care homes and their carers, will be the first priority for receiving the vaccine.
Afterwards, frontline health workers, such as those in hospitals and GP surgeries, will receive the vaccine, followed by the rest of the population in age order with people under 50 as the last priority.
The good news is that if everything goes smoothly from here, the first vaccines could be rolled out even before Christmas.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the government’s readiness to give people the vaccine as he told BBC Breakfast, “The NHS is ready, we’re prepared, I’ve put in the extra £150m today, the GPs and ready, we’re working with the pharmacists, the hospitals are going to play a very important role,”
It’s thought that much like the flu jab, the coronavirus vaccine will be delivered through care homes, GPs and pharmacists but also through specialised vaccination centres. However, in a press conference led by the Prime Minister on November 9, experts urged caution in getting too excited about the new vaccine just yet – due to the logistical hurdles that are yet to be overcome with rolling out the vaccine.
“We haven’t yet seen the full safety data,” Boris Johnson said, “And these findings also need to be peer-reviewed.”
“So we have cleared one significant hurdle but there are several more to go before we know the vaccine can be used.”
“I must stress, these are very, very early days.”
The prime minister warned that the biggest mistake the UK could make now would be to scale back on the restrictions, as the country is at such a “critical moment”.
“The death figures are tragically rising, running at an average of over 300 a day – sadly double where they were 24 days ago. The number of Covid patients in hospital has risen from just over 10,000 two weeks ago to nearly 13,000 on 5 November, and we are heading towards the levels of the previous peak.
“Irrespective of whether there is a vaccine on the way or not, we must continue to do everything possible right now to bring the R down.”
Would children be offered the Pfizer vaccine?
While children are at risk of catching the virus, the symptoms of coronavirus in children are famously less severe and damaging than in adults, so it’s thought that children would be among the last to be offered the vaccine.
It will be delivered to all those more vulnerable due to age and other factors first.
However as these are just early stages of the vaccine’s success and we have yet to hear more about it, there’s no way to confirm exactly who will receive the vaccine first and when we will have it.
Are there any side effects of the vaccine?
The vaccine is considered safe as it was tested on over 40000 people but some reported one side effect – feeling like they were severely hungover.
Although each participant didn’t know whether they were given the placebo or the vaccine, some participants reportedly said they were able to tell they had been given the vaccine due to minor side effects like headaches or muscle aches. Press Association reported that one 44-year- old participant, Glenn Deshields from Texas, said that his side effects were like a “severe hangover” but they cleared up quickly. After he took an test that revealed antibodies for the virus, Deshields came to the conclusion that he had been given the vaccine.
It was also reported that a woman from Missouri experienced a fever, headache and body aches after she received her first injection, with supposedly worse side effects upon the second injection. However, it’s not been made clear whether the 45-year-old woman named only as Carrie had received the vaccine or the placebo.
These side effects, however, are sometimes similar to those experienced by the unlucky few who have a bad reaction to the flu vaccine – or other life-saving vaccines. They can’t be taken as essential evidence that the coronavirus vaccine causes negative side effects, as both participants who reported these symptoms were of similar age and there are still questions over how the Pfizer vaccine affects different age groups and ethnicities.