【明報專訊】Some good news has emerged about the development of vaccines for COVID-19 in Europe and the US. A vaccine developed by Pfizer, a US drug company, in partnership with a German biotech company has an efficacy rate of over 90%. The news has given a fillip to the financial markets, which anticipate a resumption of economic activities. However, there is still a long road ahead in the global fight against the pandemic, and the expectation that the pandemic will soon come to an end is merely wishful thinking. At the moment the duration of immunity of the vaccine is unknown, while the problem of a production bottleneck must also be overcome. This is also a similar problem facing vaccines developed by mainland China. Even if the technical issues are all overcome, the anti-vaccine movements in Europe and the US also need to be dealt with. Many American people are believers in conspiracy theories about the pandemic and refuse to wear a mask, let alone getting vaccinated. Even if there is an abundant supply of vaccines, there is no guarantee that the pandemic can be controlled effectively.
China, the US, Europe and Russia are the four main forces in the global development of COVID-19 vaccines. Their research methods vary from region to region. From a scientific point of view, the more the options for vaccines, the more likely to overcome the pandemic. Regardless of which country develops the vaccine, it will be good news if the vaccine proves to be safe and effective.
The WHO now allows nations to vaccinate people at high risk of contracting the virus before the third phase of clinical testing is completed under an urgent vaccination scheme. On Monday Pfizer announced that the third phase of clinical testing of its vaccine had shown positive results, and the company would apply to the US government for authorisation for emergency vaccination at the end of the month. It is expected that 50 million doses can be produced by the end of this year, which will be provided for medical workers and people on the front line with two doses per person.
The Pfizer and BioNTech team is among the three major teams in vaccine development in Europe and the US, the other two being the AstraZeneca (a British drug company) and Oxford team and the Moderna team in the US. Nations are biased in favour of their own vaccines. Public opinion in the UK is optimistic about the Oxford vaccine, while in the US the Moderna vaccine is seen to be the leader in the field. In September clinical testing of the Oxford vaccine was suspended in many countries because of undesirable effects on participants. It was resumed very shortly afterwards in countries like Britain and India, but in the US it was resumed only recently, affecting progress in the development of the Oxford vaccine. This has given rise to all sorts of discussion and speculation. As for the Moderna vaccine, its progress has been slower than expected. As a result, the Pfizer and BioNTech team has become the frontrunner.
Given the short time frame devoted to research on COVID-19 vaccines, Dr Anthony Fauci, US disease control expert, says that a vaccine should be deemed as good enough if it has an efficacy rate of 60%, while the WHO has set the efficacy threshold at 50%. After an interim analysis of 40,000 participants in clinical testing of its vaccine, Pfizer has found that its efficacy rate is over 90%, much higher than expectation. The news has sent stocks soaring, as markets expect Europe and the US overcoming the pandemic and lives returning to normal. However, a series of key questions concerning how long the immunity will remain and how effective they will be on the elderly remain unanswered. The Pfizer management have only said that they hope the immunity can last for at least one year.
According to the procurement contract between Pfizer and Washington, the vaccine will initially be priced at around HK$150 per dose. This, however, will not necessarily be the price to be paid by other countries. Production capacity and storage are also matters of concern.
fillip : something that improves a situation or adds excitement or interest to sth
time frame : the period of time during which you expect or agree that sth will happen or be done
capacity : the quantity that a factory, machine, etc. can produce