While Pfizer and BioNTech’s ‘90% efficacy’ data raises expectations for mRNA vaccines, it will take many more months for key questions to be answered

Following the news that Pfizer and BioNTech have announced their COVID-19 vaccine is more than 90% effective in first interim data readout;

Philipp Rosenbaum, PhD, Senior Infectious Diseases Analyst at GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company, offers his view:

“Experts initially assumed that first iterations of a COVID-19 vaccine would show efficacies not much better than common seasonal influenza vaccines, which are usually only 40–60% effective. At a reported 90%, Pfizer and BioNTech’s vaccine candidate has greatly exceeded the efficacy bar of 50% set by the FDA. However, the efficacy percentage could still decrease in the final analysis, and important questions about how well the vaccine can prevent severe cases of COVID-19, its effect on carriage and transmission of the virus, and the long-term protection will take many more months to be answered.

“Saying that, the speed of which this efficacy announcement has been made – a mere seven months after the companies started their first Phase I study – has been really quite impressive. These results show that mRNA technology can be a powerful tool to quickly respond to emerging infectious disease threats.

“With rising COVID-19 cases globally, and the winter ahead in North America and Europe, those hoping for a quick end to the pandemic will be excited by these new results. However, Pfizer noted only 50 million doses will be available by the end of the year, and 1.3 billion in 2021. Concerns about the supply and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, especially for mRNA vaccine such as Pfizer’s that require deep-freeze storage and have a rather short shelf-life at refrigerator temperatures, will only add barriers.

“The good news is that dozens of other companies are also developing COVID-19 vaccinesand Phase III data from Moderna – which is also developing a mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine – AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, are expected soon. Many manufacturing and supply deals have been made, and most of the companies already started manufacturing ahead of Phase III results. Having multiple vaccines available with even slightly lower efficacy would be immeasurably beneficial for controlling the outbreak, giving runway to ramping up manufacturing and bolstering of distribution channels for more effective vaccines.”

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